Tag Archives: Dashboard Confessional

List-less

Isn’t it a little to early for those end-of-the-year or end-of-the-decade critics list? Didn’t September just roll around? August hadn’t even ended before Pitchfork rolled out it’s top singles of the 2000s.

Doesn’t it all seem a little too, well, soon? It’s still just September! There are four full months left in the decade! Some kid in the middle of Mississippi could be making the best damn pop tune of the century with a jug and Garageband tomorrow, but for some reason the lists are done. Final. Sorry jug players of tomorrow, today’s history lesson is over.

I get why people make lists. It’s not even necessarily about “being the authority,” especially these days where anyone with an Internet connection and the ability to string verbs, nouns, punctuation, and numbers together with a complete thought can upload their list to every foreseeable computer. (Though in some small sense, anyone who makes a list wants to be the authority on their list.)

In most cases it’s because making these lists are fun. How do you think the guys in High Fidelity manage to get along each and every day without going ballistic? Top 5 lists! I know it’s fun because I’ve done it (on this blog no less). It’s especially fun to go back and see what you thought was the end-all-be-all of a particular year and how your tastes have changed over time. These aren’t the final word on anything. No way, no how. (Though consensus always brings “the classics” to the public, and you can’t go wrong there.)

But of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t get flustered at some lists. Take this one by Stephen Ortiz which cropped up on UConn’s The Daily Campus site: “Great Emo Anthems.” Whilest asking himself what the best emo songs of the past decade were, Ortiz came up with this list:

1. Taking Back Sunday – “Cute Without The ‘E'”

2. The Used – “The Taste of Ink”

3. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue”

4. Senses Fail – “Can’t Be Saved”

5. A Day To Remember – “I’m Made Of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of?”

Huh?

What?

Really?

There are always things one finds questionable with lists like these. But I have to wonder what Ortiz was thinking with this list. Let’s just take a think here for a second. Take out A Day To Remember, because, really, what? And as far as Yellowcard, they were always considered widely to be more pop-punk than emo; that’s the “all sensitivity is emo” argument, and in that style of pop punk, wasn’t New Found Glory always considered to be more “emo” than Yellowcard?

What’s left? Nothing I could really consider top 5 emo anthems. “The Taste of Ink” may have been a hit, but it doesn’t place anywhere near top 5 (I’m surprised the band is still around to be perfectly honest). But “Cute without the ‘E'” was always something of a tune beloved by diehard TBS fans. And Senses Fail… I won’t bother there.

But are these anthems? Take a look at the definition of the word:

1 a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause : the song became the anthem for hippie activists.

I’d hardly call any of these anthems. I can think of 5 emo songs from this decade that are more anthemic to the general population (nevermind emo fans) than these songs fairly quickly. Let’s take a gander, and in no particular order:

Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle” (really, that song was inescapable in ’02)

Dashboard Confessional – “Hands Down” (wasn’t this the dude that made emo the thing at the start of the decade? Yes, I believe so)

Coheed & Cambria – “A Favor House Atlantic” (fairly inescapable in 03/04)

Say Anything – “Alive With The Glory Of Love” (is one of the few pop songs of the decade that had a 2nd life; once when it came out as a song on an independent record in 04, and then again when the album was reissued on a major label)

Taking Back Sunday – “A Decade Under The Influence” (dur)

See? Fairly easy. I even tossed in a TBS song more non-fans are probably familiar with. And this was all done without thinking what is a better song or a song I enjoy more, but instead what most people would call an anthem. There were so many great “emo” songs of the decade that any list would be missing some stuff. People will no doubt forget the Maritimes, Jeremy Enigks, Pedro The Lions, hell, even the Fugazis when making these lists… and well, that’s the way it goes.

I will probably make a list or two towards the end of the year. Probably nothing as monolithic as a “best albums of the decade,” because my rabid interest in music and knowledge of what was coming out every day wasn’t like what it is today. But, something will crop up. And I’ll be sure to have fun with it.

Taking Back Sunday at Government Center

It’s hard to turn down a free concert, even if that means watching Taking Back Sunday. Especially considering the underlying theme o’ this blog.

I’ve never been entirely “in” to TBS. Just something about them never really caught me, even though I was their prime target when they first hit it big. I can understand the positives and the negatives for and against the band, and in most ways they really epitomize the 3rd wave version of emo that was being cranked out five some years ago. Dashboard was the band on every journalist’s lisps, but TBS was the band like all the other emo bands; their lyrics and music was thoroughly average. Average as in they could easily fit in the middle of a set by any guitar-oriented emo band coming out in that period of time… they sounded just like everyone else and vice versa. Not too many folks took to the acoustic troubadeour style in the emo realm, and in that TBS really are representative of the then-hottest word in the music world.

Anyway, back to Friday night, where TBS were set to play at Boston’s Government Center.

I get there a little after 9, which was when TBS were supposed to go on, only to find some random metal band, Crooked X, doing a really terrible cover of “Another Brick In The Wall” that allowed them to show off their wicketd skillzzzz. ZZZ is more like it. Boring and more than a little trite, and they managed to pack in all the rock’N’roll stereotypes into a solid ten minute perfomance of the song (seriously, how many times do you have to introduce every band member while playing the same riff for five minutes and declaring your love for the audience?) Then some random dude from MTV2 (or some MTV offshoot) did his whole routine of pumping up the audience and shouting one of the most redundant questions that there is: “who likes free stuff?!?!” (ans: everyone) …and it’s more like free advertising, w/free t-shirts with some odd company logo on it (who can keep up these days) while a big Verizon sign stood monolithically in the background.

In the half hour it took to set up, people were busy texting to the big Verizon screen next to the stage, while every once in a while someone would come onstage in order to direct a lost kid to their guardian or cousin for the show. It’s really nice to know that, even with all the mass advertisement and corporate machismo, kids of all ages are able to see what is a fairley big and well known band. And for free. Unfortunately, at several points, many in the crowd would shout the name of the lost kid in a taunting manner… as if they were never some lost confused kid in a crowd.

Anyway, half an hour later and the band went on, with what’s probably 4 new band members. I’d seen TBS perform in that very spot two summers ago, and I distinctly remember a bunch of completely different musicians, save the original guitarist (Eddie Reyes) and frontman (Adam Lazzara). It turns out they’ve now got a bit of a history for a revolving cast of musicians, and it’s good to see they’ve got a sense of humor about it with selling “I Used To Be In Taking Back Sunday” t-shirts for $20.

ALL IT TAKES IS $20 TO HAVE BEEN IN TAKING BACK SUNDAY. ($15.99 online + tax + shipping)

And get a nice yellow t-shirt to boot.

Anyway, they played a couple of new tunes to start out, which seem kinda glossed over radio-pop that sort of resemble their previous material, but in a washed up manner. With the sound cutting in and out, and three guitarists, and Lazzara’s vocal rarely audible for some reason or another, it seemed kinda… well, meh. Meh is the perfect describing word.

Then they launched into some of their older material. And there was a difference. Back in the day, I would always wonder at how they were on the radio. Crammed between the average Creed and circa-90s Green Day song, it would focus on how odd they sounded on the radio. It literally sounded like a revolution was happening, that musical change was occuring on corporate radio. Lazzara’s vocals are the least bit typical of anything you could hear on the radio – neither particularly strong or confident, and yes a bit whiny. And the lyrics crammed every word viable into a short amount of space. And the chug-a-lug of the songs mixed in with these blasts of noise around the chorus, even given what grunge did, so odd.

And yet I forgot how damn catchy they are. TBS now aren’t nearly as catchy now, their lyrics are even more bland, etc etc etc. But man, is there this blast that just hits you and it’s unexpected, and the vocal harmonies. You don’t expect it. Especially today, when they’ve gotten so formulaic.

I left a couple of songs after “A Decade Under The Influence,” because there was nothing more I really needed to see. The band was slopy and a bit of a shadow of what they once were. Even in that one moment, I could somehow, somehow overlook the malintented lyrics and overall bland output of the band recently. But, it was a solid few minutes, and that’s all I could ask for from that band and on a Friday when there really wasn’t much going on at 9:30. Backhanded compliment? Perhaps. But it might be the best I could ever give ’em. It could be the nostalgia speaking (but really, I’m not terribly nostalgic for high school), but those few minutes were O-KAY.

Neon Shirt

Saw the above t-shirt at Warped on Tuesday. It may just be a shirt, but nowadays fashion is oft as important – if not the important – as the music that a band chooses to define itself. In My So Called Punk, Matt Diehl notes the clashes between “emo” kids and traditional “punk” kids at Warped came out in the t-shirts they wore. Just like during the earlier part of this decade, the same thing is happening currently, but pitted between scrunk and traditional “punk” acts. There were more black punk shirts in support of traditional punk virtues – though none as straightforward anti-scrunk/crunkcore as the photo above. And they faced a host of bright, neon colored shirts from acts such as 3OH!3, brokeNCYDE, Millionaires, Jeffree Star, etc. Take a look at some of the designs below:

3OH!3 shirt. They also had a shirt that said "This is a 3OH!3 Shirt," which I wasn't sure if it was a humorous send up of the "This Is Not A Fugazi Shirt" or not

 

brokeNCYDE shirt. Their crowns, when done by hand in concert, is similar to the 3OH!3 hand design. Also, not the most annoying brokencyde shirt

brokeNCYDE shirt. Their "crowns," when done by hand in concert, is similar to the 3OH!3 hand design. Also, not the most annoying brokencyde shirt

Even check out the Babycakes shirt, which screams (pardon the pun… or play on the situation) scrunk:

Anyway, that was an interesting aspect of Warped I took notice of.

As another aside, while stopping by the Vagrant merch tent on Tuesday, I noticed the tip sign by the guy running the tent. Most tip signs usually have some gaudy or humorous note to get people to drop a buck. The Vagrant guy’s merely asked people to donate to fly his girlfriend out to Warped. In many ways, this image (and I wish I could have gotten a picture of it, but the weather was really hit-or-miss, and this was a miss moment) is perfectly representative of Vagrant’s take on emo: there’s a clean cut guy with a simple message trying to get his significant other to come accompany him on a big event for the summer. And the guy was nice to boot and quite enthusiastic about their selection of $5 Dashboard Confessional albums. Couldn’t have been a more perfect match. Needless to say I dropped a buck.

That’s all for now… check in to Bostonist in the late morning, as the Warped piece should be online at that point.

Just Short…

So, for folks who’ve been following along in this blog, I submitted a proposal to Continuum’s 33 1/3 series to write a book about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good. Series editor David Barker emailed everyone who submitted a proposal today concerning those he picked to make it to the shortlist, the final compilation short of the 20 or so that Continuum will select to be turned into fully-fleshed out books (you can check out the shortlist). Unfortunately, my proposal wasn’t chosen for this list, for simple space reasons on the shortlist (I emailed David to find out specifics of why my proposal was turned down and it turns out it was one of a handful that barely missed the cut). In any case, I really enjoyed writing this proposal and speaking to those involved in creating the album about the process of writing a book on Nothing Feels Good. Rather than let it go to waste, I’ve decided to post my proposal here, below, for your enjoyment, complete with some multimedia elements that could not have been included in what was submitted to 33 1/3, but are helpful illustrators nonetheless. Enjoy it… and if anyone has any interest in further pursuing this project with me in some other forum, please feel free to contact me:

33 1/3 Book Proposal:

The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good

Guilty pleasures tend to rear their heads in an interview with music’s next big thing. So when a VBS TV correspondent was chatting it up with No Age, the uber-hip and critically acclaimed experimental punk duo from L.A., singer/drummer Dean Spunt interrupted guitarist Randy Randall’s ruminations on MC Hammer with a shocking revelation:

“I used to like The Promise Ring.”
Beat.
“Yeah, so did I,” replied the stylish interviewer.
The three guys proceeded to awkwardly chuckle and talk over each other until the interviewer brought up his stunning thought:
“Is it really at the point where MC Hammer is less embarrassing than The Promise Ring?”

Great question. And not unlike one I ask myself just about every time I crank up my stereo while playing 30 Degrees Everywhere or Wood/Water. What’s so embarrassing about The Promise Ring? It could be the band’s association with emo, the now-repugnant term for a post-hardcore genre that’s all but taken over the Billboard charts. It was the release of 1997’s Nothing Feels Good that the four “averages Joes” that made up The Promise Ring were presented with the title of poster boys of a genre once thought to be six feet under. The rest of the trials and tribulations of emo remain embedded in our international conscience thanks to numerous pop-punk acts influenced by The Promise Ring. Say what you will about your Fall Out Boys, My Chemical Romances, Dashboard Confessionals, Cute Is What We Aim Fors, Thrices, Taking Back Sundays, Panic! at the Discos, Saves the Days, Coheed & Cambrias, Alexisonfires, New Found Glorys, and Underoaths; when push comes to shove, most of these bands don’t come close to the potent passion, intelligence, and vibrancy of The Promise Ring and their sophomore effort, Nothing Feels Good.

Embarrassment aside, Spunt should have nothing to be ashamed of for name-dropping The Promise Ring as a band that’s clearly influenced the critically-lauded musician. The Promise Ring’s back catalog is filled with nugget and gems of post-hardcore-meets-pop bliss, and much like when No Age’s current work combining elements of pop with hardcore, the results are fantastic. Nothing Feels Good is The Promise Ring’s best and most succinct work, an anthemic, passionate burst of homegrown pop-punk, filtered through tales of existential crises, cross-country road trips, and references to modern Americana. The hooks are sharp, the lyrics poignant, and the performance still as unbelievably urgent as the day the original tapes were mastered over a decade ago.

Part of what’s so phenomenal about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good is the impact the album had when it hit record stores in the fall of 1997. Neatly-packaged emo-pop amalgams are a dime a dozen these days, but there was nothing “neat” about Nothing Feels Good when it was released. Although the album’s music has the sugary-sweet taste of bubblegum pop that numerous artists today no doubt want to tap into, the band’s sound subverts the pretenses of slick pop on Nothing Feels Good with quick bursts of hardcore-influenced instrumentation that seem intent on spilling out of each track marking and into the life of the listener. To mis-quote The Promise Ring, it displays a sense that the band had of having no defined sense or absolute understanding of the world around them, but simply enjoying the view. Life’s peculiarities, ambiguities, and “big questions” aren’t shunned, but brought to the surface with keen observation. In frontman Davey von Bohlen’s hands and sweetly contorted lisp – a performance factor that only makes the music on Nothing Feels Good sound an umpteenth more sincere – The Promise Ring made an album of daring proportions and a musical document to the banalities, every day norms, and even celebrations of human existence not heard since Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Nothing Feels Good cover

Nothing Feels Good cover

Part of the story behind Nothing Feels Good is known, but little of it has a concentrated focus on the actual album or the band behind it. Beyond the musical content, Nothing Feels Good was a smashing success. For Jade Tree – The Promise Ring’s label – it meant financial stability, as the album surpassed their modest predictions and allowed the company to flourish, something of a miracle in the years following the alternative music buyout which had left many independent record labels for dead. For the national emo scene – a ragtag, ambiguous assemblage of independent artists around the U.S. – it legitimized their work in the face of the post-grunge milieu that ruled the radio waves and crippled mainstream creativity. For the members of The Promise Ring, it meant video premiers on MTV, critical acclamation, a position as one of the most creative bands operating in America’s underground music scene, and, much later, a place in cult-music lore for having inspired countless musicians to take emo (or whatever genre they called their own) in new and distinctly personal directions.

Although we’re still feeling the impact of Nothing Feels Good today, the known-narrative of the album’s creation is bare. What inspired the dozen songs on the album, and what transpired in their evolution from muddled creative concept into full-blown pop gold? What about the practices that hammered out the hooks, high-hats, and lo-fi hits in The Promise Ring’s oeuvre? What about the guys behind the instruments, their day-to-day existences and thoughts that no doubt burrowed their way into the band’s sophomore album? What were the moments before, during, and after 1997 that made Nothing Feels Good stand out from a mass of other bands and recordings that make up emo’s so-called second wave? What about each member’s upbringing, their lives in the Milwaukee area, relationships with friends, family, and significant-others? What made four young men band together to form The Promise Ring and create such a phenomenal release as heard in Nothing Feels Good?

These are the pivotal questions I’m seeking to answer with my book on The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good for Continuum’s 33 1/3 book series. Here is an album and a band who’s impact on music today in innumerable. Part of the unknown quality of The Promise Ring’s importance is due to the fact that these deep-seated questions have never been asked – or rather, published – on such a large-scale forum. Considering the fans that the band amassed since forming in 1995, a list that no doubt has been growing with every article, band, or cultural critic name-checking the quartet as one of indie rock’s great cult bands, The Promise Ring are more than due for their proper place in the rock narrative limelight. And the 33 1/3 series is the place I would like to bring the tale of The Promise Ring’s best album.

For this project, I plan on writing the kind of book that exemplifies the credence imbued in Nothing Feels Good. My model for this manuscript isn’t confined to the band-nostalgically-reminiscing-on-a-piece-of-the-past-type writing you may see in a lot of oral histories or straightforward music books out there. Certainly my work will represent the mold that previous 33 1/3 books have upheld, but I’m also inspired by the writing styles of the great new journalists and literary non-fiction pieces. In essence, I’m looking to produce a book that lives, breathes, eats, speaks, and plays music the way that the members of The Promise Ring did when they made Nothing Feels Good. I want to make someone who’s never heard the album feel as though they’ve been following the band since Day One, that they’re back in 1997 and sprinting to the record store in order to merely touch an album by a band that has touched them. Essentially, I want to write a book about The Promise Ring in the same way the band created their music.

My main informants for this project will be the members of The Promise Ring; as I want to get into their heads and extract information about their environment, attitudes, and memories, they will be my go-to source for the book. I’ve been in touch with Promise Ring singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen for well over a year, having recruited his current band (Maritime) for a concert and Davey himself for a previous writing project. I have been corresponding with von Bohlen about this proposal for well over a month, and he has given this project his supportive and enthusiastic seal of approval, and has gotten me in touch with the other members of The Promise Ring. At the moment that I’ve submitted this proposal, I’ve been in touch with two other Promise Ring members, Jason Gnewikow (guitar) and Dan Didier (drums), and both are quite enthusiastic about the project. I plan on having extensive interviews with these three members, as well as the two bass players who played in The Promise Ring during their Nothing Feels Good era, Scott Schoenbeck and Scott Beschta.

Although interviews with the members of The Promise Ring will constitute a large portion of my research, I plan on culling information from as many sources as possible in order to make the narrative more vibrant and colorful. I plan on soliciting interviews with not only those closely associated to the band, but also their detractors and adoring fans. Alongside a list that includes friends and family, I plan on speaking to Tim Owen and Darren Walters (Jade Tree owners), J. Robbins (Nothing Feels Good producer), Stuart Sikes (Nothing Feels Good engineer), Jessica Hopper (former publicist), Tim Edwards (former booking agent), Josh Modell (creator of Milk Magazine and close friend), along with musicians who’ve worked with, influenced, or been influenced by The Promise Ring, including Tim and Mike Kinsella (Cap’n Jazz), Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World), Bob Nanna (Braid), Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate), Matthew Pryor (The Get Up Kids), Eric Richter (Christie Front Drive), Eric Axelson (The Dismemberment Plan/Maritime), Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy), Chris Simpson (Mineral), Chris Conley (Saves the Day), Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), and countless others for their involvement in this project. Although not everyone listed is guaranteed to be involved, with my personal connections to some of the people previously listed and with the help from the former Promise Ring members, I will have an enormous number of people contributing to the book’s dialog.

Interviews aside, I plan on digging through swaths of information to aide in the creation of the book. Included will be the usual sources of information; articles on the band, reviews of their albums, zines, blogs, and any other published work that would enhance the narrative. But, I plan to go beyond those musings as well. I will approach the band members to see if I could use personal paraphernalia to help me spin a more personal yarn. This would include anything from old photographs, letters, journal entries, lyric sheets, music sheets, and even doodles scratched into scraps of paper they’ve kept through the years. I will also approach the narrative from the direction of an informed anthropologist by researching the socio-economic background of The Promise Ring’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through census information, background information on area high school and college education systems, and the resources for youth in Wisconsin that was available at the same time Nothing Feels Good was in the making, I hope to gain a better sense of The Promise Ring’s background. I’ll also dig up information on American society’s views of Wisconsin and the Mid West and how that was reflected in the actions of those who lived there. It may seem onerous, but the brief scene in Wayne’s World that takes place in Milwaukee speaks volumes about the international perception of the place where The Promise Ring was formed. Throughout all of this, I hope to get a sense of why The Promise Ring did what they did, but from an entirely different perspective than the usual interview could warrant.

What I hope to accomplish after 15 months of research and writing is a work that can live up to how I felt after first popping Nothing Feels Good on the stereo, and something that will be as powerful as each subsequent listen to that album. My work may lack the aural quality of the album, but I hope it will be able to bring an entirely new sense of being to Nothing Feels Good, and one that will only boost the listening experience of longtime Promise Ring enthusiasts and bring some new fans to the album as well.

Dear Science, I’ve Made a Mixtape for You

After a bit of a delay, I finally present to you my review for TV on the Radio’s Dear Science,. But I’ve decided to offer up something entirely different in the way of reviews by focusing on the one pitfall of music critique I cannot stand yet find myself using at times: comparison. It’s quite often too easy to draw comparisons to well-known music in the past to describe something unheard of in the present. When used sparingly, it can work well, but used to often and it just comes across as cheap. But I’ve decided to tackle this situation head on by combining it with the underlining theme of this blog; I will compare each track of Dear Science, with an emo song that shares some similar quality of its structure (lyrics, instrumentals, etc). It should have quite an odd result, but hopefully it will allow someone out there to either reconsider some song or band they passed over due to a label (emo) or consider a new song they might stubbornly dismiss just because. So, without further ado, here goes:

*”Halfway Home” = The Promise Ring – “Why Did We Ever Meet”

Both of these songs exercise a certain sense of juxtaposition by combining uplifting instrumentation with relatively dark lyrics about the death of/confusing state of a relationship. And with both singers (Tunde Adebimpe of TVOTR and Davey von Bohlen of TPR) taking on the between-lyrics vocal melodies of “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” (“Halfway Home”) and “do-do-do-do do-do-do” (“Why Did We Ever Meet”), it stretches those juxtapositions to pop power’s upper reaches.

*”Crying” = Egg Hunt – “We All Fall Down”

“Crying” details the trials and tribulations that people go through in life (drug abuse, disaster, biblical disasters, the works) and how they face those problems, often taken in the guise of releasing one’s emotions with crying. Egg Hunt, Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson’s post-Minor Threat studio project, crafted their sound in a similar light to what TV on the Radio do with “Crying”; that is, combine the gamut of pop influences into a powerful musical force. “We All Fall Down” does that, discussing the potential pain one endures in attempting to accomplish things and get somewhere in life, and all with a bit of funk that’s heavily imbued in “Crying.”

Unfortunately, no video/music presentation for this one – check the Dischord site.

*”Dancing Choose” = Atmosphere – “National Disgrace”

And they said emo-rap was weird. Here, TVOTR run into new territory as Tunde’s lyrics are delivered with the kind of spit-fire fury and speed of most hip-hop. With lyrics that portray an odd underbelly of society, it hearkens to Atmosphere, who’s place in the emo spectrum was one of many kinks in the genre’s definition but one that added some fluidity and originality to its constraints, and “National Disgrace.” Fueled with an overwhelming sense of anger towards America’s vapid consumer culture, “National Disgrace” recalls the same fiery passion of “Dancing Choose” by distancing the creator from the negative aspects of a culture they’ve become a part of.

*”Stork and Owl” = Cap’n Jazz – “Oh Messy Life”

TVOTR’s “Stork and Owl” is a dazzling and affecting start and stop song a la’ “I Was a Lover,” with an electronically-plastered back-beat and muddled lyrics about life through the eyes of a couple of animals. “Oh Messy Life” is a brash interpretation of life that’s no less affecting, with lyrical outbursts that turn into-run on rants similar to the section of “Stork and Owl” when Tunde delivers “it goes it goes it goes it goes.” It’s all in the stories of other individuals, and the quick snapshots seem to say a lot about life without ever pointing anything out in a cliched manner.

*”Golden Age” = Dashboard Confessional – “Hands Down”

For those who’s only math involves the equation of “punk + crying = Dashboard”, “Hands Down” is perhaps the happiest song in Chris Carrabba’s canon. It’s simple, catchy, carefree, and yes, happy. It’s also easily one of Dashboard’s best-known songs. And here comes “Golden Age,” a simple, catchy, carefree, and happy song by TV on the Radio, a band that’s certainly known for addressing the negative undercurrents of society. And “Golden Age” looks poised to be one of TVOTR’s best-known songs, hands down.

*”Family Tree” = The Get Up Kids – “I’ll Catch You”

Here are a couple of songs that are almost a departure from these bands’ passionate, bombastic rock sound, but also happen to be just as affective as any ear-bursting blast (if not more) and more haunting than most other tracks. “I’ll Catch You” trades in The Get Up Kids’ usual pop-punk persuasion for a near-ballad, a piano-based ditty that flat-out addresses romantic love, while staying true to the band’s punk parallels with fits of guitar squeal. “Family Tree” is just as moving, letting TVOTR’s sea of feedback settle to reveal an affecting vocal performance similar to Desperate Youth Bloodthirsty Babes‘ “Ambulance.” And it’s all about love, but not without TVOTR’s nom ‘de artiste, with the symbols of death and rapture close behind.

*”Red Dress” = Fugazi – “Nice New Outfit”

Here are two songs that discuss the nadir of society’s underbelly – war – with the symbol of clothing. TVOTR note society’s ability to ignore war, slavery, and pain with the line “go ahead put your red dress on,” while Fugazi comment how that “nice new outfit” with its “straight clean lines” was woven with fabric made of blood and war in foreign countries. And all over a jittery, repeated guitar squeal.

*”Love Dog” = The Appleseed Cast – “Hanging Marionette”

These are two slowly paced songs that seem to send shock waves with each painstakingly sung chorus (or lyrical break) and attain something of a similar melody. Their lyrical qualities can be seen as different sections of a long narrative. In “Hanging Marrionette,” the narrator is stricken by the loss and complete absence of someone near and dear, while light years later that person has transformed into a lonely little “Love Dog,” completely lost to the world.

*”Shout Me Out” = Brand New – “The Archers Bows Have Broken”

TVOTR’s “Shout Me Out” has the aesthetic ideal of casting off the ails of old, facing your problems, and defiantly shouting in their face, all to the tune of an electronically-inclined dance beat. “The Archers Bows Have Broken” is a song that builds and rises, with the characters/band overcoming the death of the old world and facing whatever adversity they had built in their minds with a defiant shout. And man are they a couple of victoriously-charged songs.

*”DLZ” = Jawbreaker – “Boxcar”

“DLZ” is an ambiguous indictment of hipsters/trend-chasers/whatever you want to call them, and the general “mess” they make of things. But when it comes down to it, there’s a certain amount of disconnect between their actions and the ideal they like to say they play out. So when Tunde shouts at the end, “this is beginning to feel like the dawn of the loser forever,” is he eulogizing the 90s punk ideal of loser that Jawbreaker was defending against posers over a decade ago in “Boxcar”? That just may be – both groups seem to notice how the out-crowd has been stifling with too many in-crowd seeking individuals, and are taking their frustration of their culture to the front-line, backed by some pop-friendly panache.

*”Lover’s Day” = Pedro the Lion – “Rapture”

Now, here are two songs about one of the three tenants of rock ‘n’ roll – sex. And while they have divergent views on the issue – TVOTR discuss it in positive terms, while Pedro’s take has a certain element of guilt as the song’s characters are having an affair – the ravenous description of “love making” ties the two together. TVOTR’s celebration of the act (“Yes of course there are miracles/a lover that love’s is one”) eventually meets the orgiastic height of Pedro’s heaven’s gates-as-sex narrative (“Oh my sweet rapture/I hear Jesus calling me home”).

And what do I think of Dear Science,? Well, I think it’s clear that I’ve always been a fan of the band. And this has just been another wonderful treat from a group that I feel like I’ve grown with. Simply put, one of the best of the year.

Not Another Post About Movies

I think “dumbfounded” would be the best way to described how I felt after watching this trailer:

Yep.

Somewhere along the line, I guess this had to happen. David Zucker, the man responsible for bringing absurdity-through-seriousness in the comedic splash that is Airplane is also one of the men responsible for the recent rash of (enter genre name here) movies. You know the ones. Date Movie. Epic Movie. Superhero Movie. And what looks to be the worst yet, (it’s sure to be a) Disaster Movie. Somewhere along the line, Zucker found the idea to restart his brand of craming every humorous idea possible in a solid minute of film when he took over the Scary Movie franchise at number 3.

David Zucker

David Zucker

And now he’s back. But is it to seek vengeance or add to the pain? It’s really a toss up. From the trailer, An American Carol could actually go either way. Sure, if you hold it to any standard, the movie is sure to be doomed. But, unlike the relentless “Movie” movies that have been churned out, Zucker wrote and directed this baby; aside from his role as producer for Superhero Movie, all the other films didn’t bare any of his trademark brand of humor – just the residue of his influence. And Zucker no doubt pulled out all the stops for this one with a cast that would never touch Epic Movie with a ten-foot pole; Kelsey Grammer, Jon Voight, James Woods, Dennis Hopper, Kevin Sorbo, Leslie Nielsen (alright, he has done some terrible stuff, but he’s Zucker’s go-to guy) all star, and there’s even a cameo from Bill O’Rielly. What’s more, An American Carol seems to offer at least some semblance of a conversation on society rather than a pool of tossed out fifth-rate jokes. If anything, the movie is just as much a skewering of the recent rise in terrible film satire as it is of the political world. But honestly, the entire movie rests on one Kevin P. Farley, who is probably turning the stomachs of many Chris Farley fans simply for staring in such a similarly-characterized role.

My thoughts on An American Carol are reminiscent of Say Anything‘s In Defense of the Genre. Both appear to be an effort to resurrect their individual fields of artistic (I use that word lightly) expression; Carol for modern film satire, Genre for modern emo. And yet their over-the-top presence is so off-putting and reminiscent of the very concepts and ideas most people detest about both types of expression. Then again, the significant pull of “celebrity guests” (in Genre, everyone from Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba to Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance to Hayley Williams of Paramore) and the initial draw of the original artist is enough to draw attention to any production. Yet just as An American Carol has its faults, In Defense of the Genre is far from perfect, weighed down in too many songs (two full albums worth) and not enough content. But what’s probably the most irritating thing is derived from the fact that Say Anything (and to an affect, Zucker) is capable of creating great stuff and settles for driving the stereotypic points of emo home. And therein lies the friction in whether or not Genre is simply good or bad. Something like “Shiksa (Girlfriend)” is so blatantly over-the-top and conservative in its employment of typical modern emo diatribes, it makes it all seem like the track and the rest of the album is almost a mockery of itself and the very thing it’s supposed to defend. Maybe its a challenge – the fact that Max Bemis can whip out a double album of this stuff in no time with what appears to be very-little creativity spent on it (at least, in comparison to …is a Real Boy) is both a tribute to and a scathing diatribe against emo. And maybe the thing I like most about the album is that idea… then again, emo is invariably whatever one makes it out to be.

Touche.

Say Anything – Shiksa (Girlfriend) (live):

Rock N’ Roll Post-Graduates

They really don’t make ’em like this anymore. That was one of many thoughts that jumped in my brain while watching Rock N’ Roll High School the other day. Camp doesn’t even begin to describe it. Joyful absurdity. Now that might do it. Whoever had the idea to take a simple B movie, combine it with Airplane-esq comedy theatrics, and center the entire movie around a punk band that had only achieved some semblance of cult status must have been a mad genius. The Ramones may be icons today, but back in 1980, they would have been the last choice to place at the center of a movie. The Jonas Brothers – or whatever third-rate mechanized creations Disney churns out for the center of some made-for-TV movie – they ain’t.

The original Ramones

The original Ramones

Aside from style and vision, the simple juxtaposition of a small-time punk band that failed to realize their dreams of Billboard big-shots playing the role of a big-shot band was enough to make the film such a phenomenal treat in my mind. It’s hard to remotely think of a band today that could be subsumed into a rock-star elite status for a camp film while they struggle away in the real world. Perhaps the only group that could have pulled it off with style and finesse would have been the Promise Ring. The high-calcium pop of their second and third albums would have fit perfectly into a happiness-is-all-the-rage B-movie; moreso, the Promise Ring’s status as a cult-band and icon for the bubbling emo scene would have been a great juxtaposition in the seat of rock kings at the center of a film – their affable attitude is a great base to work with. Not to mention a certain sense of humor and delight that seems to bubble up in their videos:

If anything, one real world emo event seems to have brought Rock N’ Roll High School to reality. When MTV re-started its Unplugged series, it was simply to make good behind the cult of Dashboard Confessional. Not even a cult-group in terms of the mainstream, Dashboard had barely been a fashionable musical name to know when MTV picked Chris Carrabba to be the new face of their once-famous series. So to give a no-name their own special, one which featured high schoolers flanking him in the wings, literally brought Roger Corman’s film to life. You know, if Rock N’ Roll High School were a bit more melodramatic…

Dashboard Confessional – Living In Your Letters (MTV Unplugged):

What a Beardo

Big news out of Belgrade this past Monday, where war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic was captured after years of “living in hiding.” Karadzic was thought to be hiding out in a cave, but had been living in disguise under the name Dragan Dabic. While Karadzic committed some hainus crimes, but I can’t help but be in awe of the situation. So while Saddam Hussein got caught for hiding in a hole, Karadzic hid in plain sight, simply practicing alternative medicine and creating a new identity. What’s most ingenious was Karadzic’s natural ability to create a disguise. Just look at this:

Before and After

Before and After

Now that’s a beard. Honestly, it’s hard to tell that Karadzic and “Dabic” are one in the same. You have to appreciate the finer points of facial hair growth, and it certainly benefited Karadzic (if only for a period of time).

As facial hair has provided safety for some, it’s always been something of a completely different use in my experience. Being able to grow a beard, mustache, or anything else that would never naturally fill a child’s face had been a sign of maturity (or even male superiority in some cases). Whomever managed to squeeze out the first batch of hairs beyond simple peach fuzz immediately gained some semblance of adulthood – or perceived adulthood – in the world of my youth. I still marvel at certain individual’s ability to crop facial hair into whatever whimsical shapes and sizes they could pick from.

Like a young man’s first set of sideburns, much of emo is a reflection of a growing maturity. If rock (and moreover, punk), as Lester Bangs described it, is innately youthful in its purest form, and if hardcore punk is merely an extension of that, then emo and other post-hardcore genres is an immediate reaction to those forms of music. Post-hardcore and emo were birthed as a growth from those primordial forms of music, of which many originators found themselves playing a communal role in. While Calvin Johnson proclaimed himself to be forever a teenager, he intended his mental state to be in that of the youthful open-mindedness, striving to grow beyond the binds of childhood but keeping those freewheeling ideas at heart. Johnson may have been tangling with the close-mindedness of age with his statement, but the emo movement developing in DC confronted those bonds of age in light of everyone’s physical and psychological changes over time. No doubt about it, those who were involved in harDCore had experiences that made them grow mentally as they grew into adulthood, and those changes are reflected in the cultural output of the emocore scene.

Tooth Paste For Dinners Beamo

Tooth Paste For Dinner's Beamo

Although it may not seem like those ideals of personal growth as reflected in music have held true to emo over time, it most certainly has been an important part of the culture to today. Sunny Day Real Estate addressed their evolving thoughts on life and religion even as it tore them apart. The Promise Ring observed the existential crisis of the modern American young adult as a method of moving across the country – the physical movement reflecting the mental change. Hell, even Dashboard Confessional’s tear-stained rants about love are representative of a greater longing than simply puppy love; Carrabba may sing solely about love and loss, but the loss isn’t simply the physical (ie, the lover) but a loss at a future greater than the present situation (a time of growth).

True, these are only a handful of groups in discussion. But for every act discussed, there is a wealth of other emo bands and cultural elements that reflect the ideology focused on grappling with (and simply about) maturity. It may not be a full beard, but it’s all about the journey of growth (be it facial hair or mentally) that’s in focus.

And now, a word on the awesome power of beards from Clone High:

No More Phone Booths

Like any “normal” male adolescent in America, my elementary school days were filled with a love of sports and comic books. For me, it was more comic books than sports. As my friends dreamed of a future on the gridiron, I diligently worked on my impending comic book career. Somewhere along the line I became jaded; it could have been any number of adults and teachers who urged me to take art classes (an idea I despised), it could have been my critiques of my ability to draw or create a narrative, or it could have been middle school that did it.

My childhood - just as I remember it

My childhood - just as I remember it

As my dream job of creating my own super heroes slipped away, my love of comics stayed with me. My own maturation seems perfectly timed with the “maturation” of comic books from pubescent pulp to renowned artistic endeavors with the popularity of the graphic novel. Maus (the unmitigated classic), Palestine (what I’ve read of it – it’s an intense and engaging affair that I should devote more time to than idly flipping through chapters in my free time), Blankets (I remember picking this thing up to pass the time and stay out of the rain at a festival in Norway, and I was immediately absorbed), and others made my love of comics seemed refined. But the superheroes, those endless tales churned out week after week and once seen as a splotch on the American conscience, they remain my true guilty pleasure (perhaps that is why I find Watchmen so endearing; it combines the seemingly low-brow entertainment of super heroes with the high-brow narrative style of graphic novels). So, whenever a new superhero movie comes out, I jump at the ability to see it.

With each coming summer, there’s at least one high-flying comic book based (or inspired) tale on the big screen, and this year is no different. As The Dark Knight approaches, I’ve been subsumed in comic-book films recently and even movies with people obsessed with comic books. While I’ve missed out on The Incredible Hulk (or based on various reviews, not missed out), I celebrated the end of my college education with Iron Man on opening night, saw Hollywood make an altogether out-of-character film with Hancock, and devoured the graphic details that fill Hellboy 2. As I saw the later two films within the past week, two other occurrences have made me think about my adoration of superheroes more than I normally do. One was a great article by James Parker in last week’s Boston Phoenix on what the popularity of superhero films says about our nation’s identity. The second occurrence was a scene in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, where Stan Lee discusses with Brodie (played by Jason Lee) what drove him to create his best characters.

Jason Lee and Stan Lee in Mallrats

Jason Lee and Stan Lee in Mallrats

Although the scene in Mallrats was clearly scripted for the plot of the movie, the random chain of events in which I watched the three films and read the James Parker article got me thinking more about my personal interaction with comic books. The one thing that reminded me of what appealed to me about superheroes, particularly the Marvel chain of heroes, was one section of the Parker piece:

“I’m a DC Comics person,” says Dr. Robin S. Rosenberg, PhD, over iced coffee at Simon’s in Cambridge. Outside, the afternoon is horizontal with heat fatigue: the cars buzz drunkenly along Mass Ave. “By temperament, I suppose. Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman — they have a lot more moral clarity for me, a more serious code to which to aspire. Marvel is kind of the arena of the neurotic superhero, beginning with Spider-Man, who, of course, is a New Yorker. A neurotic and very introspective New Yorker! Now Batman is thoughtful, too, but he doesn’t think about himself. He broods, but what he’s doing is figuring out what action to take. So it looks like rumination, obsessive thoughts, but it’s actually problem solving. Whereas Marvel characters seem to go around and around.”

 

To me, DC comic characters always seemed so un-human in every aspect. They were nearly flawless (that includes Batman, despite his problems with the past), and aside from one minor problem they may have (such as kryptonite), their entire abilities just made their jobs seem so easy. It made the prospect of even reading the books sound pointless – there’s no way the characters couldn’t triumph over their enemies. Now the Marvel characters had it; they were unique, imperfect, and human; they had to struggle with their own place in the world in order to do good for the world. Sure, Spider-man could swing through Manhattan, but his own problems seemed so realistic, making his situation as a person with superpowers that much more believable. In many ways, this is what I find so appealing about emo; the subjects that are discussed within the lyrics are problems that at their core are undoubtedly human. Whether those problems are as morally thoughtful as corporate greed (Fugazi’s “Five Corporations”), as existentially obtuse as traveling beyond your natural habitat (The Promise Ring’s “Make Me A Chevy”), or simply about loss (Brand New’s “Sowing Season (Yeah)”), they all (hopefully) contain a poignant point about the problems in life, and how we deal with them. In that context, it’s no wonder love is so often discussed.

 

Hellboy and Liz Sherman in a scene from Hellboy 2

Hellboy and Liz Sherman in a scene from Hellboy 2

 

Love was the second big thing that I noticed about comic book superheroes. Well, not so much love as a consistent recalling of it in two films that made me think more about my own interaction with comic books and emo to a greater extent. Being a huge music fan, I often want to know what inspired the songs that I find really inspiring. What I find so appealing about emo (and comic books) is that there are many layers that inform a particular story or song, but in the end it’s what you take away from it that matters. There’s a particular section in Andy Greenwald’s reprehensible book on emo, Nothing Feels Good, where a Dashboard Confessional fan recounts a discussion he had with Chris Carrabba about a particular song; the fan thought the song was about one thing, but was surprised to find out that it was inspired by something totally different. Is the fan wrong to think about the song that way? Not at all – the song had personal meaning to him for a good reason. In the entire emo lineage, the brightest bands have created songs that are multi-faceted; they’re based in personal moments, but can be subsumed by any listener and thought of in a different way. And the thing is, no one is wrong. So, when Stan Lee tells Brodie in Mallrats that lost love inspired the creation of many of his greatest superhero creations, I find everything a little too coincidental. Sure, that story was Smith’s invention, but who’s to say he was wrong? It’s well known that the X-Men were created as a foil to the then-current struggle for Civil Rights, but who’s to say they don’t mean something different to Stan Lee (well, Stan Lee I guess).

 

In many ways, the more I think about it, the more I find the narratives of normalcy particularly appealing to me in terms of superheroes. I love action as much as the next person, but nothing is quite like the personal stories of the people behind the masks in the comic books and films. And again, it’s the same thing with emo; of all the cultures surrounding musical genres, emo is (for the most part) all about normalcy. The musicians and artists discuss personal problems and try and build communities among their fanbase. The world of the “Rock Star,” the realm of 80s Hair Metal; these are the “superheroes,” but they’re not so much super as they are larger-than-life purely due to the size of their egos. I could never equate that attitude with “good,” and I’ll take the normalcy of emo anyday.

 

Dashboard Confessional – Vindicated video (not my favorite, but it sums up the theme quite nicely):

Emotional About Environmentalism

Radiohead released the video for “House of Cards” early Monday morning. The video is not just a continuation of the band’s subvert-the-norm conceptualization through the use of the internet; it’s also a promotion of their inclinations towards positively affecting the environment. The video was filmed without the use of cameras as the band opted to use 3D plotting technologies to create the on-screen narrative.

Of course, you could read pretty deep into the visual concept of the video. Is the destruction of power-lines (outlined in red) meant to symbolize a sense of negativity directed at our society’s drain on the amount of available energy? Maybe yes, maybe no, but beyond the message of the “House of Cards” video and the method Radiohead chose to create it, the band has been a forward-thinking unit on the subject of the environment. As the world’s “biggest” musical acts were chastised for traveling to their various Live Earth performances last year, Radiohead were nowhere to be seen. Instead of joining in on critiquing their peers on environmental protection, Radiohead have taken the higher and independent road towards helping the environment. Using their status as one of the biggest acts in the world, they’ve done everything from getting fans to calculate their carbon footprint, to their green-friendly performance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, to providing a major chunk of live material (in the guise of a performance by Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke) on the Artists Taking Action On Climate Change compilation. Cynics can call it a gimmick, but Radiohead have used their position in pop culture for an excellent cause.

Although certainly not as well known as Radiohead, emo act Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly has been a force in environmental action in their native UK. Or should I say “his” native UK. GCWCF was created by Sam Duckworth, and the rest of the band has offered more of a stage-presence than a recorded or creative force. Combining lo-fi indie and folk with the vocal stylings of third-wave emo (think acoustic Taking Back Sunday with even less screaming) and Dashboard Confessional-type acoustic underpinnings.

Sam Duckworth

Sam Duckworth

Although GCWCF may seem something not-out-of-the-ordinary to American listeners, his actions as a musician are certainly admirable. Duckworth is an ardent supporter and champion of everything from Free Trade to Love Music Hate Racism – an activist group aiming at subverting the acts of UK racist organizations. Perhaps it’s unsurprising then that Duckworth would be an ardent supporter of positive environmental action; he’s done everything from DJing the World Environment Day Trust concert in London to conducting television and magazine interviews concerning environmental protection and green-friendly touring.

Sure, it may be a far cry from seeing numerous bands make albums filled with their own versions of “Burning Too” – the environmentally conscience song off of Fugazi’s 13 Songs. But, as Fugazi have been heralded for sticking their positive and political beliefs, it’s important to recognize the actions that acts take in order to ensure that they’re up to snuff with their ideals. He may not be at Radiohead’s level, but Sam Duckworth and Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly certainly make their ideas an important part of their image. And in the world of emo, where image has come to be more important in the eyes of the media and mainstream, there’s nothing wrong with a little positive change.

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Waiting For The Monster To Drown (free download)

GCWCF – War of the Worlds (live, BBC 1):