Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

A Brief Scribe on Scrunk

The behind-the-scenes (or rather, behind-my-thoughts) on the Boston Phoenix piece I did on scrunk and Warped Tour is still to come, but consider this a little preview. A lots been said online since the piece went on the net about scrunk/crunkcore and its impact on Warped Tour, which isn’t to say that my article caused these comments (that would be a tall tale), but it’s certainly part of the ripple effect since the announcement that bands like brokeNCYDE and Millionaires.

I’ll discuss a chunk of that soon, but I think the most audacious claim is that the music of kids today is worse than yesterday. To hear “punks” say something like that is more than a bit odd and even counter-intuitive, making these folks appear no better than the old rock dinosaurs and their fans that helped spawn punk in the first place. Whatever you may think of Warped Tour, put that aside for the moment. True be it, the sheer number and impact of scrunk acts on the tour this year is more than noticeable, which is the reason I wrote the article in the first place. But, these bands are not a reflection of all of “kids today and their music,” or even Warped Tour for that matter. As of now, these bands currently fill a simple niche, that being a combination of being in the limelight, riding the tipping point of a trend in mainstream, teenaged alterna-rock, and yes, “controversy,” for whatever that word means nowadays in this context (I honestly think that, at this point, these bands words may be offensive and their music rather tasteless, but their actual existence is hardly controversial). And so, because of their infamy, many of these bands are highly regarded as the epitome of why music today sucks.

And to that, I call bullshit. Since the dawn of time when humans found rhythm, there were countless individuals who followed in the paths of those who could morph these sounds into art. And a lot of the followers created stuff that is hardly up to muster. I hardly know the history of music in humanity because I wasn’t alive at the dawn of time, but simply looking at recent musical history, how many shitty bands and musicians tried ripping off everyone from Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Elvis, The Beatles, Ray Charles, The Sex Pistols, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Joy Division, Talking Heads, Prince, Metallica, Public Enemy, Fugazi, Nirvana, Liz Phair, Nine Inch Nails, The Fugees,Notorious BIG, Green Day, Moby, Ani DiFranco… hell, even any big-hit internet sensation today, far be it that they extend past their net-worth 15 minutes. Because for every Nirvana, you’ve got a Creed. And for every Creed, you’ve got a Nickelback. So to say that a band like brokeNCYDE shows why the music today sucks is not fair to brokeNCYDE (their music isn’t really deserving of that kind of responsibility) nor is it fair to youth or music fans. It’s a conceit that just pleases music fans who’ve decided to tune out on what is going on with people who are making music today and not make them feel bad for missing out, all the while claiming they were alive for the best music ever.

It’s all false.

If you want to talk Warped Tour, fine, let’s go ahead and do it. I’m particularly excited about Warped Tour this year because the more “fringe” acts may easily upstage those acts on the bigger stages. For the “punk is dead folks,” there are the NOFXs and Less Than Jakes to go around: those bands will never stop playing Warped, so please stop complaining about how Warped has “totally changed for the worse,” because the older acts are some of the highly considered groups on tour. 

But look elsewhere and you’ll find some really fantastic acts. Like P.O.S., who has really grown into his skin and rhymes to craft some of the best hip-hop in the past decade and puts on one hell of a show. Or Gallows, the UK hardcore band that took that country by storm for bringing passionate performance back to punk, on record and in concert. Hell, there’s even Shooter Jennings on tap this year, and his Southern country might be the most abrasive sound to a young “punk” on Warped. Considering punk is supposed to embrace anything that challenges the usual rock norms, the inclusion of these acts brings some heft and yes, cred, to Warped. And that’s just the tip of the iceburg.

So feel free and go ahead and bash the “music of today” for being shitty, but your scope will be fairly close-minded. True, I focused on a particularly insidious trend on Warped, but that’s because I was drawn to the “genre” and its mere existence to begin with and that inspired me to write the article. The idea to write a piece on the “non” “punk” acts would be a little odd simply because there’s a healthy dose of diverse genres and trends every year – hell, that’s what I look forward to catching if I check out Warped on a particular year. But the meteoric rise of scrunk really caught my eye/ear, and I felt it reflected a particular takeover of a chunk of Warped that hasn’t been experienced since the summer of 2004. The rest of it is merely a continuation of what Warped has excelled at: provide a mix of old and out-there acts among the trendy thing for 13-22 year olds.

Anyway, now I’m going into all sorts of odd directions and getting off the beaten path… I’ll be sure to cover some of this stuff a little more in due time.

In the meantime, below is the new video for the P.O.S. song “Purexed” (a highlight from his new album, Never Better), and a pdf of the scrunk article, which is in the Phoenix that hit newsstands a few hours ago. Enjoy.

P.O.S. – “Purexed”:

Scrunk Happens:

*Sorry it’s soo teeny, but I think you get the picture (as it were)

Watchmeh

Ok, the Watchmen movie wasn’t as bad as the title of this post would imply, but it wasn’t exactly as great as my expectations. However, considering the massive odds against it, the hype, and my own conceits, Zach Snyder’s take on the book was, in many ways, true to its original nature, if also a shallower version of the Alan Moore book. (Then again, try cramming all that moralist and down-to-earth-human perspective into a Hollywood film, and you’d be lucky to produce the same film.) I realize many folks considered the narrative “unfilmable” for various reasons, but viewing the movie I thought one aspect that could never really transfer that well is dialogue; Snyder’s direction and a couple of actor gaffes aside, the words Moore made for the graphic novel just don’t transfer that well to the same… they don’t have the same spark on screen that they do on page and on certain occasions appear a little naive.

 

Watchmen graphic novel cover

Watchmen graphic novel cover

 

Other than that, for a 2 hour, 45 minute film, I sat in rapt attention, which is a feat considering the weighty subjects as told through a Hollywood blockbuster. If only the soundtrack wasn’t so… well, terrible. But if that’s the worst problem a movie has, then so be it. And poor My Chemical Romance for covering Bob Dylan… or should I say poor Bob Dylan… or poor viewers/listeners…

 

My Chemical Romance – “Desolation Row” (Bob Dylan cover):

Jimes and the New Garage

There’s nothing quite like a musical discovery, and Jimes is not quite like anything else I’ve found in recent memory. Jimes is the kind of thing you inadvertently stumble upon and then mildly-obsess about for a handful of minutes. Jimes is absurd, endearing, and entertaining, simply by being.

Jimes live

Jimes live

Jimes hails from Chevy Chase, an annexed part of the greater Bethesda area that’s all encapsulated in the DC metro area. Despite the feet which separate his home turf from mine, I had to go to New York to even realize such a character/musical entity existed. And so, while searching for a small-scale, underground show to follow up my Siren adventure, I discovered Jimes was scheduled to play a new hole-in-the-wall venue in Brooklyn.

I didn’t make it to the show (I ended up throwing away all my post-festival plans for relaxation), but Jimes certainly stuck with me. The anarchic, non-musician to the extreme, uber-garage pop immediately jumped out at me. Hey, it’s not great musicianship, but there’s an immediacy and power to it that’s lost on a lot of bands I like to lump into the “mainstream.” Clearly, Jimes (who is the singer, but is also the umbrella name for the full-band) isn’t doing this for money or fame, but simply the power of expression… or most importantly, fun.

More Jimes

More Jimes

Of course, Jimes’ forwardness with which he proclaims his inability to create music is easily connected to the first wave of punk, where non-musicians became an icon of the movement (if not exactly the true creators of said punk music). And as emo is as much a part of the narrative of punk as it is a sub-genre, Jimes’ straight-forward creation of music for the sake of creation is reflective of much of the narratives behind emo’s most noteworthy acts. Although many of those acts had different ideas for simply creating their music, one thing is clear throughout; it’s just important to do it. And if Jimes has any relation to those in the Dischord crowd, the kids in the Mid-West emo scene of the 1990s, or the teens bouncing around basements in New Jersey in the late 90s/early 2000s, his drive to create is in part fueled by his derision of the mainstream society around him.

As far as Jimes’ connection to any greater community is concerned, that is a scene I would be very interested to learn more about. Jimes’ playfulness and musical audaciousness is reminiscent of a number of acts from around America, yet ones who don’t appear to have any direct connection to one another. Math the Band readily comes to mind; the New England-based act was originally just a fun-loving guy named Kevin who sang over beats he constructed on his laptop. But Math has since expanded into a full-fledged band that’s been touring with buddies Harry and the Potters (the defining act of wizard rock, which is it’s own little scene) and will soon be playing a festival in Pittsburgh with none other than Bob Dylan. Juiceboxxx is another one of these whatever-you-want-to-call-it acts, though there is a touch of professionalism. Hailing from Milwaukee, Juiceboxxx is known for putting on urgent and insanely danceable shows, all of which can be heard in the immediacy of the goofy-yet-catchy laptop-based hip-hop tracks.

Math the Band

Math the Band

I could be trying to force certain puzzles in place when there isn’t anything there necessarily. Without any immediate connection to one another, there’s a certain lack of any tangible scene, a driving force which has powered emo to this day. And yet, for some reason, all of these acts are cropping up across the United States that have a general aesthetic connection; technologically-driven (though slightly deficient) music and a drive for creativity that is more parts humor and fun than anything else. If anything, this is a mark of the technology on the ability to create music. Just as cassette tape players made it easy for anyone to make some form of music in the 80s (which Calvin Johnson took to heart with K Records), the laptop has made it insanely easy for anyone to record anything.

Juiceboxxx live

Juiceboxxx live

Although mash-ups, techno, dubstep, grime, and any other electronic-based genre have long been the focus of technology-in-music when it comes to the role laptops have played on modern music, they can be (and in the case of Jimes, are) used for simply recording live instrumental playing on the fly. What’s happening now is something similar to the rise of garage bands in the 60s (although not on such a grand, noticeable scale). As rock bands became a commerce of cool, kids across the country formed bands without any thought of ability or community – just make music. And it’s happening again, only with the laptop instead of the guitar.

Call it “New Garage.” Call it whatever you want. In the same way that garage rock produced hundreds of hundreds of bands across the country, each unique and the same all at once, that commitment to music above all else is happening all over again. And that’s a great thing.

You can download most of the Jimes catalog here. Below are clips of live shows from Jimes, Math the Band, and Juiceboxxx.

Jimes:

Math the Band:

Juiceboxxx:

Say Anything About Science Fiction

There’s something about the 4th of July that screams “joy”. It could be the way that folks file out of the woodwork to aimlessly meander around Boston in numbers that rival a sports championship parade. It could be the atmosphere of happiness that bounces off porches and front lawns, where normally reserved neighbors suddenly take to the near-outdoors to share a laugh and an afternoon. It could be the way fireworks careen through the streets of Allston the moment darkness sets in, a venerable battlefield of noises raging through the air. It could be the familiar smell of meat (and your garden variety of vegetables) wafting through the air, almost as if it’s every individual American’s right, nay duty, to fire up the grills and fill our stomachs. It could be the way that Boston turns from a normal city into a communal playground, the kind of place where everyone does indeed know your name, or at least act like they do.

Or it could be The Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel. Seeing as I rarely indulge in TV on my own time and that the number of shows currently broadcasting aren’t what I’d pin down as “entertaining” (though I do watch my fair share of DVDs and random re-runs) it’s funny that of all the days of the year, I’d take the 4th of July to spend some quality time with the good ole’ Jawbox. I’d forgotten about the annual Twilight Zone marathon, and it wasn’t until I dropped by a friend’s cookout did it pop back into my head and on the TV.

Suffice to say, Rod Serling was a genius and the impact his program has had on popular culture and modern storytelling is pretty hard to underestimate. In just the first episode that I watched (of three), I saw shades of Toy Story, a better and more succinct version of what I think Lost is all about (truthfully, I’ve barely seen that show, and have no interest in continuing to watch it), and the strong influence of Samuel Beckett. Titled “Five Characters In Search Of An Exit,” the episode (part of which I’ve placed below) quickly reminded me just what made The Twilight Zone such an anomaly and a brilliant work of art.

Serling, like so many great artists, had his finger on the driving impulses of humanity. His work has the mark of absurdity, but in the way that what is accepted as normal within The Twilight Zone isn’t necessarily as absurd as what we accept in our reality. Just as many great works of science fiction point out the absurdity of the human condition through metaphors (such as George A Romero’s take on racism in Night of the Living Dead, although that is more horror than science fiction) or critique the absurdity of society (the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and it’s critique of the red scare), Serling’s work struck a chord either with the paradoxes of humanity, the state of our society, or simply played on our individual fears.

Absurdity is a great and oft-dangerous tool in art. Use it well and you’re a genius; misuse it and your work suffers (one cannot forget Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, which seems to both use and misuse absurdity in extremes; the film is a bumbling mess that’s both hideous and brilliant at the same time. Unfortunately, one half cannot be without the other). Of all the acts in emo, Say Anything is the one band to make excellent use of absurdity for the bettering of art (and sometimes, abuse it for the unfortunate nadir of art as well). People may complain about the state of emo today, but chances are, none have them would have bothered to pick up Say Anything’s 2004 effort …is a Real Boy (which was later re-packaged as a double album in 2006, with the second half labeled …was a Real Boy). The blogosphere is no stranger to hype, and hype is no stranger to frontman and perpetual mind of Say Anything Max Bemis, but …is a Real Boy is easily one of the best albums to come out this decade.

Still from the \

Epic, mature, humorous, brilliant, lyrically-intelligent, spellbinding, and yes, absurd, …is a Real Boy takes the idea of extremism in punk rock and hits it out of the park. For a first album, any band would be proud. But Say Anything is not any band, and Max Bemis is not any frontman. Here’s the skinny:

Max Bemis grew up in LA a punk-pop prodigy, told from a young age that he would be the next Bob Dylan. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young man, especially one who would later be found to have manic-depression. After putting out some independently-produced albums, Bemis scrapped all of Say Anything’s back catalog to make something, well, epic. Bemis concocted …is a Real Boy as a great emo rock opera. Quite literally. Bemis even went as far as to recruit Stephen Trask, creator of cult sensation Hedwig and the Angry Inch, to produce the album and what was meant to be a giant musical production of the record’s songs in conjunction with its release. The overarching story is of a boy who is struck to breakout into song when he reaches some climactic and passionate burst of fury over whatever he was agonizing over. Musicals are easily the most absurd form of modern art (honestly, nobody simply breaks out into song and is joined by a massive, perfectly-choreographed chorus in order to express their inner thoughts and then simply act as if said moment never happened afterwards), but the songs on …is a Real Boy made it work. The way a punk lifer described his iconoclastic ideals through passionate bursts of song that made the critiques on reality just as absurd as the moment of intensity of the performance was flawless.

Too bad the musical never panned out. Bemis had the first of many psychological breakdowns during the wrap-up of the album’s production; he got in a fight with strangers on a New York City street corner, believing they were actors in a film about the production of his album. Several nervous breakdowns later and a career in danger and Bemis is found to have manic-depression. A number of years later and Bemis has signed a major label deal, has his videos on MTV, and (rightfully so) has found his work on top of the Billboard heap. Call it what you will, but I was disappointed with the release of In Defense of the Genre; it may have landed Say Anything at the top of the pops, but it was an example of absurdity in unfortunate extremes. A double album with only enough good material to fill a single side, In Defense of the Genre is a good effort, but merely an effort in comparison to …is a Real Boy. The idea of defending emo is excellent, and the cavalry of emo stars who fill out the album’s guest spots is great (such as Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way), and the (ab)use of a multitude of genre aesthetics is an interesting concept. But ultimately, the performance and the ideas fall flat. Still, it is a valiant effort, even if Bemis is much more concerned with love (most songs on In Defense of the Genre) than, say, rightfully bashing elitist hipsters (“Admit It!!!”).

Sometimes I wonder if the absurdity, nay, even the brilliant social commentary of Say Anything ever really seeps into America’s tweens. But there’s no doubt that Say Anything’s best work has a certain staying power that most pop cannot achieve. Hopefully somewhere in the middle of America those who pick up Say Anything after hearing it through some Clear Channel station will play …is a Real Boy years from now and understand what Bemis is getting it. Or maybe I’m just not giving these tweens the right credit. Sure, Warped Tour is ground zero for shameless product plugs and hours upon hours of pop-punk. But with the cathartic live experience of Say Anything – Bemis is halfway between Andrew WK and a white, male MIA – there’s no doubt that those messages critiquing society’s ails can reach someone.

I’m in a video mood, so here’s the video for Say Anything’s “Alive With The Glory Of Love”, itself a critique on the important aspects of life during times of desperation (listen closely to the lyrics):