Tag Archives: Panic! At The Disco

There Are Too Many Songs About Love: An America Is Just A Word Update

Another day, another addition to the growing list of interviewees for America Is Just A Word. Joining the ranks is Mike of San Jose’s Shinobu. Whereas some of the other bands that will be included in the book have a large enough cult audience to be noticed, such as Cap’n Jazz or Heroin, Shinobu are a relatively new and even-more unknown band by comparison. Hopefully, Mike’s contribution to the book will give insight on a genre/style/culture/whatever that’s become so dominant in one facet of the “sound,” and all from the perspective of a band that has a completely divergent musical-and-life-style than the members of, say, Panic! at the Disco. Shinobu’s inclusion in America Is Just A Word is a sign that various, unique sounds continue to grow from the emo, post-hardcore strain today, even though what most people see are xeroxed versions of shallow pop.

Speaking of Shinobu, Quote Unquote Records – a donation-based record label – has released the group’s newest effort, Strange Spring Air online. It’s got a requested donation of $5, and all you need is a Paypal account and some pocket change.

Shinobu – “Teachers Get Tired” (live):

Hey! What?! No, Really… What?

I wish I could blame this sort of thing on April Fools Day, and perhaps the timing is all-out irony, but it’s stuff like this that reminds you how everyone lives under their own rock at times. What am I talking about specifically?

Scrunk.

That’s screamo-crunk.

The Guardian already “discovered” scrunk a year ago. That same time, the genre was added to the definitive online dictionary for pop culture, Urban Dictionary:

picture-1

(It’s important to note that, the number 1 spot for scrunk on urban dictionary is “the act of being stupidly crunk,” a definition that I have heard, making me feel not quite as old-for-my-age as the above definition.)

And glancing at the myspace pages for scrunk acts BrokeNCYDE and I Set My Friends On Fire and seeing the millions of listens that have occurred in these groups’ short life spans, you have to wonder… sometimes it’s a little hard keeping up with the speed of information and culture dissemination these days. This does, however, explain the presence of a number of headlining bands on Warped Tour that I’ve never heard of… they’re in the scrunk scene.

 

BrokeNCYDE

BrokeNCYDE

Then again, there doesn’t appear to be much of a “scrunk scene” as the term scene would indicate… just a couple of bands from different parts of (most likely suburban) America combining two seemingly disparate genres. In many ways, this sound is something that can be traced back to a number of influences, many having cropped up within the past few years. Scrunk can be seen as the screamo extension of the infusion of electronics in emo and pop-punk, a sound glorified in the music by bands such as Panic! at the Disco, The Higher, and Hellogoodbye.

The mass popularity of these acts could conceivably trace their way up to the scrunk sound; the combination of different genres with an emo subgenre isn’t that hard to conceive. In many ways, it’s a monument to the power of technology, the dissemination of information, and the high speed with which our culture travels. In that, it’s not inconceivable to consider groups of suburban kids picking up a hip-hop genre from Atlanta and other southern urban areas, and fusing it with another popular genre that they listen to extensively. In many ways, crunk is no more foreign than anything else when you consider its pairing with screamo. With the exception of notable acts such as Thursday, screamo has been susceptible to many of the pains (no connection to actual content by emo/screamo acts) that emo is criticized for adhering to. Shallow music about romance, sure thing. Sometimes taken to extremes with strong hints of misogyny that Jessica Hopper so eloquently pointed out in a 2004 Punk Planet article entitled “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t?” Set that level to “scream” and you’ve got that tenfold. The violence and oft-stereotyped images of hatred towards women that can be evoked in some emo songs can be taken to extremes in screamo. So, when you’ve got a hip-hop sub-genre that’s known for misogyny, repetitive and stereotyped beats, and an extreme version of its former electronic essence (“electro” or “Miami bass” – take your pick) and post-hardcore sub-genre that’s equally extreme, musically stereotyped, and known for romanticizing the problems in romantic longing, all while it’s original part (emo) is making waves by moving in the direction of using electronic instruments… well, the math adds up pretty clearly.

Don’t believe that crunk and screamo can be equal? Well, BrokeNCYDE have had no problem adapting the two in a matter of time… 

Perhaps someday scrunk may change, but if it doesn’t, it just may just fade away… and probably for the better.

Still, you have to marvel at just how quickly these bands have managed to crop up, generate a sound, and gain millions of fans and hits… it’s quite mind-numbing…

 

BrokeNCYDE – “Get Crunk”:

I Set My Friends On Fire – “Crank Dat” (Dora the Explorer-themed video):

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.

Happy Halloween!

To celebrate Halloween, a quick little post with a couple covers of a purported favorite film among emo kids (and here I thought most people of our generation who grew up with it had a basic fondness towards the movie) by a couple of famous emo acts. Here goes…

Panic! At The Disco – “This Is Halloween”

Fall Out Boy – “What’s This?”

Muppet Madness!

While listening to WOXY the other day, the dj mentioned a YouTube video that remixed the Hold Steady’s “Sequestered in Memphis” with shots of the Muppets. Hilariously titled “Sequestered in Muppets,” it is quite well-edited:

And then I happened upon this Panic! At The Disco video for “She’s A Handsome Woman” that’s eerily similar….

Maybe I should stop stumbling around YouTube….

More News After This Quick Commercial Break

Mountain Dew commercials rarely make me sit up and pay attention – I simply don’t like their product or most of their commercials. But, towards the end of this ad, which begins with the familiar trope of extreme people drink Mountain Dew, I practically jumped out of my seat:

What is Jack Hanna, the mild-mannered animal lover who populated the TV on the lazy Sunday mornings of my youth, doing in a Mountain Dew commercial? I don’t know. Do I like it? I still don’t know. But, it did do the job that TV ads are supposed to, and that was make me pay attention. And they did it by subverting their normal routine for commercials (although it still was the central theme).

Jack Hanna

Jack Hanna

The oddity that is Jack Hanna in a Mountain Dew ad reminded me of another reoccurring TV presence; Fall Out Boy carrying the logo for Circuit City. I guess it isn’t odd that Fall Out Boy would do advertisements – they’re extremely popular and in a place to do so. It’s just odd that they chose to flog products for Circuit City, a corporate entity that doesn’t exactly scream “teenage rebellion.” Again, it isn’t making me run to my nearest branch (I don’t even know if there is a Circuit City near me), but it made me wake up from my natural commercial break stupor. Here it is, in its full, grainy, bootlegged YouTube nature:

In The (Music-Related) News:

*Rage Against The Machine made quite a scene out in St. Paul last week for the Republican National Convention. Here they are performing a couple of a cappella renditions of “Bulls On Parade” and “Killing In The Name Of”:

Punk percussion protest it ain’t, and positive it ain’t either. There’s a reason they brought Wayne Kramer of the MC5 out on stage during one of their numerous shows to perform “Kick Out The Jams” – Rage is trying to incite the same “revolutionary” attitude that made a mockery of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Frankly, nothing really came out of that episode except for some broken bones and a tired-old tale for old-hippies to remind our generation of our inability to challenge authority. Sure, there was a challenge, but out of the hostility came no change. And the only thing that will come of Rage’s “protest” are the same old thoughts that people hold towards young anarchists and vice versa. Until Rage drops the tired-out diatribe meant to incite police violence, they’ll be unable to achieve much of anything outside of some press clips.
*The New York Times has a great article on how Western entertainment is providing an escape and challenge to the hierarchy of power in the Gaza strip. Gotta wonder if anyone in Gaza is rocking out to the new Panic! At The Disco album…

*More news about TV on the Radio‘s Dear Science, is getting me more and more excited about the album’s release. Good thing September 23rd is right around the corner. Again, the New York Times hops in with an excellent article on the group. It’s a quick narrative that briefly mentions how the new album and the band are strikingly anomalous in the Williamsburg of their past, present, and nearly-gentrified future. Sections discussing the group’s “allusive” sound and a quote where Kyp Malone mentions that, “I’ve been done with cool for years,” reminds me of my own interpretation of emo. And the critique connecting “Golden Age” to Michael Jackson is reminiscent of something I wrote a little while ago.

And now, a (fake) word to wrap everything up:

Bastards of Pop

By now most music-loving folk are aware of the pay-what-you-want, online release of Girl Talk’s latest album, Feed The Animals. But this isn’t about that… well, it’s almost not about that. As any other savy internet users are concerned, a trio of folks hailing from the greater Baltimore/DC area new about this all to well. Funny thing is, the title of Girl Talk’s new album is startlingly similar to a certain activity that these three individuals do to fulfill their creative impulses. And darn it if the members of Food For Animals didn’t do something about it. The savvy members of one of the top experimental hip-hop troupes in the country put their imagination to the test and came out with a remix of Feed The Animals that is as hilarious as it is genuinely well-crafted. The inversion of the Girl Talk record cover didn’t hurt either.

Girl Talk\'s Feed The Animals

Food For Animals\' remix

Sure, this may sound like another attempt by an under-appreciated musical act trying to grab some limelight off of the backs of pop sensations. Actually, pop sensations may be the key word to why this isn’t a case of bandwagon-ing popularity. That same realm where Girl Talk has become such a heroic image is one where Food For Animals have gotten their fare and deserved share of praise and following as well; from Spin to Pitchfork, numerous well-regarded places of music criticism have praised FFA for their latest album – Belly.

No, this is not a case of scraping for some 15 minutes of fame. This isn’t even about fame. This is a great case of that simple keyword… community. The FFA remix is more a work of humorous camaraderie than anything negative or self-serving. For Gregg Gillis and FFA, it is another mark of a shared aesthetic dedicated to the opposite of pop-sanctuary; underground artistry. Their physical hometowns may be separate (Pittsburgh for GT, and Baltimore/DC for FFA), but their ideal one is a special place known as Wham City.

Brooklyn\'s Matt & Kim at Whartscape 2007

Wham City is a collective of artists and musicians who’ve made a hometown in Baltimore. More than that, they’ve made a scene-worthy presence out of Baltimore. Although Wham City is a close-knit crew (headed by electronics wunderkid Dan Deacon) and is not the entire community of Baltimore’s diverse art-punk scene, they have nevertheless become the center and face of the creativity bubbling out of the once-forgotten town. While institutions as high on the music-critiquing food chain as Rolling Stone have come a-calling, it has yet to diminish the creative culmination of the relatively anti-establishment scene. If anything, it’s simply drawn other like-minded individuals to the area and those who have made themselves an important part of building an artistically-challenging community. The connections within the scene are more personal than musically-similar. This year’s Whartscape Festival features, along side Gregg Gillis (playing with his side project Trey Told ‘Em) and Food For Animals, a number of musicians from across the country who are more dedicated to pushing the bounds of music than they are to carving a universal pop niche. There’s The Mae Shi (from LA), Black Dice (NYC), Parts & Labor (Brooklyn), and a ton of local Baltimore acts. What they lack in definite sound they make up for in their shared passion for underground music, ingenuity, and community.

Emo was birthed out of a very similar thesis of community as seen through performance. Music was the cache, but it wasn’t the only distinct quality of those communities. The places friends within the scene would interact and think of as home bases, the venues that bands practiced and played, the ideas that individuals shared and used to challenge one another – not just musically, but in life – were as integral to the scene as the tag placed on the original scene’s existence.

The Revolution Summer scene, the first community to be burdened with the label “emo” was a particular exemplary of the feat of flexibility. Some ideological and musical characteristics were shared, but the common bond over strengthening the community beyond the rigidity that defeated DC’s hardcore scene was stronger than any detrimentally-inclined tag. The acts that followed in the footsteps of the broken-up Revolution Summer acts continued to build on the ideas of community, welcoming other individual-thinkers into their world, and emiting a new crop of bands that did little to conform to any standards. Groups like Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, Shudder To Think, Jawbox, and a host of others opened up the interpretations of the local “emo” sound to distinctly new possibilities. And others flocked to their community. Bikini Kill, though not emo, left the West Coast for DC, while Dischord welcomed Baltimore’s Lungfish in with open arms (quite a feat considering that Dischord was meant to be a forum for only DC acts).

With the breakthrough of alternative music into the mainstream, the emo acts of DC formed connections with others across America through correspondence, touring, and even producing; Jawbox’s J Robbins was a primary producer of many well-known 2nd wave emo acts. As the ideological, aesthetic, and musical aspects of emo spread around the country, tight bonds were formed by dis-separate acts throughout the Mid West. Those who form the core of 2nd wave emo acts  – The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, etc – were all connected through friendship rather than sharing three chords.

Even today, when emo has lost a lot of its elasticity of definition due to stereotypes, community is as an important aspect as ever. Acts bond through touring (such as playing together on Warped Tour), shared record labels (Vagrant, Fueled By Ramen), a communal upbringing (such as Thursday and numerous other acts who honed their sound in New Jersey basements), and friendship (be it Thursday and My Chemical Romance or Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco). Community is the strongest bond of the most-creative (and often times, successful) emo acts. Those bands looking to take advantage of a currently-popular, commercially-consumed genre tend to bring out the worst in emo. But it’s community that has allowed emo to continue to thrive and survive to this day, and it’s community that will continue to drive some of the most ingenious and forward-thinking musical movements.

Food For Animals – Girl Talk

Baltimore’s Double Dagger at Whartscape 2007: