Tag Archives: Parts & Labor

The more and more I agree with Christopher R. Weingarten

Eye Weekly has a pretty great interview with Christopher R. Weingarten, formerly of good ole’ Parts & Labor, now known most prominently for his Twitter account, 1000TimesYes.

Anyway, Weingarten has some pretty stellar things to say about the omnipresence of emo and indie in the early part of the decade, the impact of crowdsourcing on music journalism, and many more. Just take a look at what he has to say about brokeNCYDE:

What the worst records you’ve had to endure?
Well, obviously the Brokencyde record… I hate to dog on those guys because it’s kind of an internet meme to make fun of Brokencyde. And if someone pitched the idea of southern bounce beats plus screamo, I would totally say that sounds like a great idea. The only record I’ve heard that’s worse than Brokencyde is the Johnny Cash Remixed record.

Nuff said.

Singles vs. Albums

 

Dan Friel in action

Dan Friel in action

“Personally, all of my favorite bands/artists are my favorites because of their albums, not singles. They created their own world within those albums to an extent that you just can’t do with much detail on one song.”

Dan Friel, Parts & Labor

You can read the rest of my interview with Dan and flip through pictures of Parts & Labor’s recent show at Oxfam Cafe at Bostonist.

They Said It…

Right on the button… The emo-inspiring (in pop terminology, that is) webcomic title of Pictures For Sad Children has some of the driest and most on-point sense of humor I’ve seen online. And the depictions of music blogs and obsessions with top 10 lists is pretty histerical, even given my own end of the year lists.

Still, the thing I love most about end of the year lists isn’t an incessant need to categorize everything, but rather reflect on some of the music/movies/whatever that I found particularly compelling from the past year. These lists are often attempts by many to stand the “test of time,” but in many ways they’re a great marking for an individual’s personal state-in-time. Looking back on some of my previous end of year lists, I see records I undeniably loved and still cherish, but I can see there are other albums that would have garnered higher spots and some records that mean more to me as a, dare I say it, nostalgic item more than “album # of whatever year it is.” Looking back, there are some albums I might dig up soon and give another re-listen (because catching up on music is a job in and of itself).

Largehearted Boy has a full listing of countless year end music listings, to which this blog was humbly included, so check out that site for all the music you could ever want and more. I will not even attempt to match what he’s done, but rather give something of a breakdown, matching where I placed my top 10 against other listings. Enjoy:

# 1: TV On The Radio – Dear Science,

#1: Ann Powers (L.A. Times), The A.V. Club, Chris DeLine (Culture Bully), Entertainment Weekly, Jon Pareles (New York Times), Josh Keller (Culture Bully), Michael D. Ayers (Billboard), MTV, Rolling Stone, Spin

#2: Edna Gundersen (USA Today), I Guess I’m Floating, Margaret Wappler (L.A. Times), Stereogum (Gummy Awards), NME, TIME, WOXY (Top Played Albums)

#3: Blender, New Haven Register, Tiny Mix Tapes, Uncut Magazine

#4: Alexandra Cahill (Billboard), Erik Thompson (Culture Bully), Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune), NPR Listeners Poll

#5: Amy Lindsey (KEXP), Justin Harris (Billboard), Cleveland Plain Dealer

#6: Pitchfork, Troy Carpenter (Billboard)

#7: Associated Press (Best Rock Albums), Nate Chinen (New York Times), Q Magazine

#8: Susan Visakowitz (Billboard)

#9: Cortney Harding (Billboard)

#10: Jessica Letkemann (Billboard)

#11: Chicago Sun-Times

#20: Mojo

#27: Drowned In Sound

#33: Amazon.com editors’ Best Albums

#50: Paste Magazine

General Favorite Listing: John Bush (Allmusic.com, top pop albums), Heather Phares (Allmusic.com, top pop albums), James Christopher Monger (Allmusic.com, top pop albums), Jason Kinnard (KEXP), Joan Anderman (Boston Globe), Kelly Hilst (KEXP), Limewire Music Blog, Sarah Rodman (Boston Globe),

Honorable Mention: New York Observer

#2: Why? – Alopecia

#1: Morgan Kluck (KEXP)

#6: About.com

#7: Drowned In Sound

#8: Eric Mahollitz (KEXP)

#10: Morgan Chosnyk (KEXP)

#11: Tiny Mix Tapes

#13: Stereogum (Gummy Awards)

#24: Cokemachineglow

General Favorites Listings: Kyle Johnson (KEXP)

Honorable Mention: Pitchfork

#3: Parts & LaborReceivers/Escapers Two

#5. New Haven Register

#6: Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune)

#9: Amazon.com editors’ Best Alternative Rock Albums

#12: Chicago Sun-Times

#25: I Rock Cleveland

#53: Amazon.com editors’ Best Albums

General Favorite Listing: Allmusic.com Best Noise Albums

#4: Sun Kil MoonApril

#1: Erik Thompson (Culture Bully)

#2: Jonathan Cohen (Billboard)

#5: New York Observer

#7: Robert Thompson (Billboard)

#8: Paste Magazine

#16: The A.V. Club

Honorable Mention: Pitchfork

#5: PonytailIce Cream Spiritual

#8: Blender

#12: Tiny Mix Tapes

#13: Fact Magazine

#50: Pitchfork

General Favorite Listing: Allmusic.com Best Noise Albums

#6: Neon NeonStainless Style

#7: Uncut Magazine

#11: NME

#28: Mojo

General Favorite Listings: Stephen Thomas Erlewine (Allmusic.com, top pop albums), Matt Collar (Allmusic.com, top pop albums),

#7: The Mae Shi – HLLLYH

#8: Baltimore City Paper

#18: Pitchfork

#8: The DodosVisiter

#2: Josh Keller (Culture Bully)

#5: Katie Hasty (Billboard)

#9: Chris Barton (L.A. Times)

#10: Eric Mahollitz (KEXP), NPR Second Stage

#12: Cokemachineglow

#23: Stereogum (Gummy Awards)

#24: I Guess I’m Floating

#39: Paste Magazine

Honorable Mention: Pitchfork

#9: Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

#8: Drowned In Sound

#10: NME

#46: WOXY (Top Played Albums)

General Favorites Listings: Melissa Trejo (KEXP)

#10: Food For AnimalsBelly

Looks like it’s just me…

…then again, this list is quite short of “comprehensive.” And in the end, it’s ultimately the individual who chooses what they like, right?

Best Concerts of 2008

“Best of” lists for records have only become a commodity in recent decades because of technology – I’d like to see what the “best phonograph cylinder list of 1908” was (my guess is Thomas Edison dominated the top ten). However, live music has been around since… well, I can’t quite tell you the exact date, but it’s been around for awhile. There’s just something about a live performance that’s hard to compress into an MP3 file, just like there’s something about recorded sound that cannot be duplicated to the point in a real environment. And who would want that? Some of the best shows I’ve seen this year (and any year at that) have the thrill of the “performance in the moment” – a special quality of experiencing the music literally grabbing you, those around you, and the musicians themselves – that excel beyond the normal trappings of a “rock” show. These lists are always tough, because, unlike records, not everyone was there to experience the moment when (enter your favorite artist here) played (enter your favorite song here) in a certain way in (enter specific venue/town/etc here). This particular list is quite tricky, as a large chunk of shows I’ve seen this year I’ve had some organizational role in; for the sake of this list and whatever hard-to-get-to performance I helped put on, I’ve excluded all those shows I’ve put on in the past year (despite the fact that many of those will always remain favorites of mine). But, without getting ahead of myself, here are my top ten concerts I attended as a paying gig-goer/whatever you want to call it from 2008 (I apologize for leaving off the dates for these shows):

10. TV On The Radio at the Wilbur Theater (Boston)

Six times, and each viewing was a charm, though this performance came with a price, and I’m not talking about the expensive nosebleed seats. Like any number of listeners of “independent” or “underground” music, I was attracted to TVOTR and other acts because they exemplified something entirely different than what was being peddled to the masses… and I wanted to get away from the masses. So it’s a little odd when the masses show up – I wholly enjoy all the success that this group has been getting, but it’s a little upsetting when the only song that gets the crowd moving is their single from a few years ago (“Wolf Like Me”). You’d think people who’d plunk down money for any show over $20 would at least be willing to dance to songs; I’ve never seen a crowd so dumbfounded by a performance. And some of that was the sheer power of TVOTR (the clip below doesn’t do justice to physically seeing them). Their set was surely as heartfelt as any other I’d seen, they mixed in a wealth of excellent new material and blended it in with their older songs, and they kept it fresh with the addition of a horn section, mixing up and rearranging compositions while retaining their original essence. It’s impossible to contain Tunde’s vocal prowess on the page, same as the entire band’s instrumental whirlwinds, so I’ll just leave it at that. If only everyone had their Dancing Choose on…

 

TV On The Radio – Dreams (live, Wilbur Theater):


9. Subtle/Zach Hill/Pattern Is Movement at the Middle East Upstairs (Boston)

After a period of concert-detox, this triple bill of underground oddballs was just the thing I needed to get back into the live show groove. Pattern Is Movement opened the show with a deft display of minimalist punk drumming smashed headstrong into a wave of gothic organ/keyboard work – and man did this duo enjoy their time onstage. Zach Hill kicked it in gear with his “backing band” Peer Pressure (aka a pre-recorded tableau) and for fourty or so minutes my eyes and ears were subject to some of the fastest, careening display of drumwork I’ve ever witnessed. And to cap off an excellent show were Subtle; after a summer soundtracked by this band, I was ready to see this group pull off their egnimatic sound in a live setting. They certainly didn’t dissapoint. With Doseone spitting lyrics a million miles a minute and the rest of the band covering an amalgam of instruments, they created an intricate pattern wholly unique to their presence in the moment. And it wasn’t a bad way to start a birthday either.

Zach Hill and Peer Pressure – Necromancer (live, Middle East):

8. Liars with No Age at Paradise Rock Club (Boston)

It’s great when you see a band surprise you in concert and never see it coming – so went the tale of my Liars/No Age show. I’d been having trouble getting into Liars and heard great things about their live set; I’d heard great things about No Age and enjoyed what music of their’s I’d heard; I’d had a free weekend and desperately wanted to go see a show that I wasn’t involved in planning. What a treat. No Age seemed dwarfed on the rather-lengthy stage at the Paradise, but their zeal couldn’t be contained by the space or their place as openers, as they cleanly burst from one great hardcore-pop gem to the next. It was tough to top, but Liars were up for the challenge. Frontman Angus Andrew barely left his chair in the center of the stage, but was a riveting ringleader, headbanging to the steady, pulsating music that grabbed my rib cage and wouldn’t let go. And I no longer have any problem picking up their recorded material.

Liars – Clear Island (live, Paradise Rock Club):

7. Why? at the MFA (Boston)

Sure, I complained about the conceit of close-minded hipsters at this Why? show in a previous post, but that was only a slight blight on what was a powerful performance. Simply the fact that the band forced people out of their seats and onto the stage by the end of the show is a testament to the force of this band’s live draw. Beyond that, there’s just something about the way they play live. It could be Yoni Wolf’s nasally drawl hitting every note just right; it could be the instrumental rearrangement of numerous songs, turning many an aesthetically muddy piece into fully-fledged bangers. It could be the great catharsis that came with dozens and dozens of fans passionately screaming alongside Wolf’s verbose lyrical displays. And it’s easily the combination of all of these things that really hit it all home.

Why? – Yo Yo Bye Bye (live, MFA):

6. Mission of Burma performing all of Vs. at Paradise Rock Club (Boston)

This show was a wet dream for any Mission of Burma fan – their entire first full length performed in full. Add on two encores and a venue packed with the hometown crowd and you’d be hard pressed to not be pumping your fists in the air. Even though Burma decided to do the whole “play your best/favorite/seminal album in full,” they subverted the business as usual method of performing these kind of shows and began with a handful of tracks at the end of the record (“Laugh The World Away,” “OK/No Way,” etc). And with the whole band in perfect synchronicity, it was simply an astounding show, with one great song after another. But, is that really any different from a “normal” Burma show?

Mission of Burma – The Ballad of Johnny Burma (live, Paradise):

5. Mark Kozelek at the MFA (Boston)

Mark Kozelek (aka Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters) was completely at ease in the MFA auditorium. Outright I was happy simply to be at this show; after several years of trying, I’d made it to a live performance featuring one of the most moving voices I’ve listened to in years. And that voice didn’t let down; the minute Kozelek opened with “Trucker’s Atlas,” he on an acoustic guitar accompanied by a touring partner on another guitar, the hair on my arms stood on end when Kozelek made an impromptu humming pattern where there was none on the record. And it just got better, with Kozelek knocking out hits from the past three Sun Kil Moon records and digging deep into his Red House Painters and solo material. Even with the live version of “Duk Koo Kim” stretching into the double digit minute run time, the show was as moving and haunting as anything Kozelek has committed to record. His encore, four different songs from his long repertoire strung together in a makeshift medley left me completely elated for days on end.

Unfortunately, there is no video of this show available online at the moment. Instead, here is a brief snippet of Kozelek performing Duk Koo Kim in California from 2004:

4. Ponytail at The Talking Head (Baltimore)

Spend half a day in a tiny Baltimore club and you’d be tired as shit. But cram that place with 50 friends and put Ponytail onstage long after midnight, and it makes for one hell of a party. I’d convinced a friend to drive down to Baltimore from DC to check out the band live, and was it worth the (sometimes awkward) wait. After seeing these folks play three times this year, their hometown show was by far the best out of the lot, with the entire band putting their whole essence into one captivating half hour that sent normally stiff concert goers into a spastic, dancing frenzy. With Molly Siegel’s bemusing and careening whoops and hollers at the helm, the band took off from the first song until the seven-minute closer, “Celebrate the Body Electric.” I left Baltimore tired and ultimately triumphant.

Ponytail – Celebrate the Body Electric (live, Talking Head):

3. Parts & Labor at Siren Music Festival (New York)

Siren’s a tough gig to do. There’s the scorching heat, the terrible sound, the crowds of oft-disinterested scenesters packed into one big sweaty mess, and the whole thing takes up most of the day. Great bands have gone through mediocre and ok sets at the hands of this festival. Parts & Labor weren’t one of them. Returning from a European tour, they gave the hometown crowd all that was in them, which was quite a bit. It was my first viewing of the band as a quartet, and it certainly knocked me out, as the group delivered one of the best performances at Siren I’ve seen, period. The hits kept coming through (“The Gold We’re Digging,” “Death,” etc), and Parts & Labor were as taught as ever. And thankful to boot; it’s often rare to see a band member smile while performing, but Dan Friel grinned while tossing his head back and forth throughout the set. And if you didn’t believe that the band really cared about each and every song of their set, perhaps the moment when B.J. Warshaw launched his well-worn bass into the crowd at the end of “Changing of the Guard” sealed the deal. It certainly did for one lucky fan.

Unfortunately, there is no video of this show available online at the moment. Instead, here is a performance of Changing of the Guard in Dallas from this year:

2. Boredoms at Paradise Rock Club (Boston)

I think my mind literally melted during this show. Boredoms have put out a lot of records – many of them unlistenable and unpalatable for those with the slightest distaste for punk. But I’d be hard pressed to find someone who likes to dance who wouldn’t have freaked out at this performance. With three members on drums and frontman Eye on a combination of synths, 8-necked guitar, two strange glowing balls of light that made static noise, and random chanting, Boredoms put together a fantastic and fluid set that was more a rave than a punk show. Hip shaking syncopated beats  provided by the three drumsets gave way to techno-like synths with change ups that tugged at your ears and feet. It lasted well over and hour and a half, but ended far to quickly.

Unfortunately, there is no video of this show available online at the moment. Instead, enjoy this selection from their ATP set from 2006:

1. The Baltimore Round Robin Tour at Mass Art – Feet Night (Boston)

This is what shows should be like. Bands packed in, playing for the thrill of performance and a sense of urgency that cannot be covered by a ticketmaster fee, a big chaotic mess wherein things fall apart, but everyone is there to help pick it up, where concert goers and performers intermingle freely and lines are blurred to the point where no one really cares who is who, where one act who may not mean anything to folks outside of a certain city performs as an equal to other musicians who get more press than folks who spend lifetimes in the PR industry could dream of, where a four and a half hour show gets you twelve different bands of a diverse set of genres, all pleading with you to dance and enjoy life and take a chance because hell they just did by treking around parts of North America to show you their community. It’s about community and it’s about creating and it’s about music for the sake of music and not hype or fame. And man is it thrilling. So thrilling it’s made attending most shows afterwards seem downright complacent by design. You have to give it a hand to the Wham City crew for pulling that show together; equipment broke, set times ran long, the Pozen Center at Mass Art smelled like a middle school locker room, but it fucking worked. It was in the moment, and the moment was captivating. Although some of the acts didn’t quite perform as passionately/deftly/well as others, they tore it up just by being there. Double Dagger brought the political punk mosh pit, but not before the Deathset provided a heady mix of electronics and thrash punk, while Smartgrowth had some downright danceable mashups, Future Islands got everyone to dance even in cramped conditions, Videohippos overcame technical difficulties to bring some lo-fi dance pop, and Nuclear Power Pants were downright in-your-face hilarious. Of course props to Dan Deacon, who ended the evening with a stellar performance of “Wham City”; as most of the hype-following crowd members had abandoned the show in droves before the end of the fourth and final go-round of the Round Robin, it felt like one big communal celebration, with members of the Wham City family and the concert die-hards dancing and singing around Deacon to what has ultimately become that community’s theme song. Right then, everyone there was a member of Wham City and a performer in the traveling circus of the Baltimore Round Robin. Now that’s in the moment.

Dan Deacon at Feet Night (live, Mass Art):

(Very) Honorable Mentions:

Iron & Wine (Pearl Street, Northampton): Sam Beam’s voice can warm a thousand + person crowd while the rain outside provides ample acoustic rhythms.

Shudder to Think (Paradise Rock Club, Boston): Reuniting for the first tour after their break up in the later half of the 90s, these first-wave prog-emo rockers kicked out all the best of the best of their backcatalog.

Edie Sedgwick (Oxfam Cafe, Somerville): Minimalist twee-styled punk done by a full band – complete with a couple of chorus singers in matching dresses – and an outlandish sense of self-aware humor not unlike labelmate trailblazers Nation of Ulysses and you’ve got one hell of a fun dance party.

Videohippos (Union Square, Somerville): A great set as part of an outdoor art festival in Union Square, this duo brought a surprising amount of energy and whipped up people into something resembling a dancing frenzy.

The Hold Steady/Drive By Truckers (The Orpheum Theater, Boston): These two bands just want to have fun (as if the smile on Craig Finn’s face didn’t tell you), and the Hold Steady certainly stole the show with one guitar-fueled-Americana song after another. Their pairing may have felt a little awkward, but these two bands certainly had a great time.

After the Jump Festival at four stages in Brooklyn: Four stages of free sets by a range of Brooklyn artists, this was an excellent place to check out those artists about to burst onto the national scene. Great sets by Noveller, an acoustic two-manned version of Extra Life, a pre-iPod fame Chairlift, and finally, where would a great noise fest be without Ponytail.

Dr. Dog (Rickenbacker Park, Philadelphia): People of all ages from all across town packed into a park on a beautiful day – isn’t that what summer’s all about? And Dr. Dog was there to pull all those warm ‘n fun summer feelings together with over 2 hours of classic rock cum modern indie. If only every summer day could be so great…

Top o’ 2008

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2008 (and other things)

So, like any music-related blog, here’s a listing of my top albums this year. Some of it may seem a bit odd and arbitrary, but there’s some backings to my orderings. But, it’s all merely numbers – I’ve enjoyed all these albums throughout the year, and completely numberless. However, for the sake of order, here’s the list…

 

35. AmpLiveRainydayz Remixes

Here’s a great album remix concept that works out all the way through. Rather than simply mashing up In Rainbows with another album, AmpLive rearranges the Radiohead tracks into completely new and downright great hip-hop songs. Del’s track (“Videotapez”) is one of the best hip-hop songs of the year.

34. High Places03/07 – 09/07

It’s a bit random, but this selection of songs recorded by High Places made from March to September of last year is, if anything, a mark at how great this band can be. “Head Spins” and “Jump In” offer up some fantastic experimental pop songs, bringing some heft to the album of mostly-studio experimentations.

33. Future IslandsWave Like Home

Comparisons are pretty easy, but in this case, it’s impossible to ignore. Baltimore’s Future Islands sound a little something like if New Order used cheap laptop technology for their electronics and were fronted by a slightly subdued Iggy Pop. “Old Friend” is perhpas one of the most endearing beginnings to any album this year.

32. Fuck Buttons Street Horrsing

Listen to the first two tracks and just try not getting hypnotized. Experimental-art-whatever-kind-of-rock that’s quite pallatable.

31. Lil WayneTha Carter III

I’m not sure what convinced me about this record. Oh wait, it could be the brilliant minimalism of “A Milli” and Wayne dropping rhymes like “you drop em cuz we pop em like Orville Redenbacher.” Now that’s an imaginative and oddball line for you.

30. AtmosphereWhen Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold/Strictly Leakage

Sure, Slug’s fit of anger may have become… well, sluggish. But he’s surely got more to offer, as seen on When Life Gives You Lemons. Although there are some rough patches here and there, Slug melts his tales of woe and wisdom of everyday folks with Ant’s increasingly experimental neo-soul. Guest spots from TVOTR’s Tunde Adebimpe and Tom Waits sure do add to the mix. The free Strictly Leackage is a bit of a toss-away in comparison to the large amount of Atmosphere material out there, but pump those beats and you really can’t go wrong.

29. The Very BestThe Very Best Mixtape

This mixtape might be a little higher to the top if it weren’t for the fact that many of its best tracks are simply recylced instrumentals that are quite recognizable… then again, that is part of the appeal of most mixtapes. Even so, Esau Mwamwaya’s skillful flow brings a newfound musicality to the over-used Clash sample on “Paper Planes”… now, if I only new what he was saying…


28. FoalsAntidotes

When I saw Foals in a tiny club in London back in 2007, I was sold. But when Antidotes was released, I didn’t pick it up. Actually, I still haven’t. However, I’ve heard plenty of the album, and after having a sizeable amount of distance from the material and the British hype machine, I must say the things that brought me to the band are still there. There’s the quirky math-minimalist streak, combined with an ambience I originally pushed off in search of more post-punk punch but does the trick. If only some of the songs stood out a little more on their own, or rather, didn’t appear to repeate the tropes of other tracks, this album would have been in the top ten.

27. Pattern Is MovementAll Together

Punk drums and church-like organs with operatic singing, and tons of positive feedback. How can you go wrong?

26. Hercules and Love AffairHercules and Love Affair

The sound of Hercules and Love Affair breathes disco, but it seems to be missing part of the free-for-all effervescence that fills the best tracks of that era. But considering that the large majority of songs from that era get increasingly hard to listen to, consider HALA a neo-disco best of. Some of these songs are that great. Hats off to Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, who’s trumpet-like warble makes the albums best songs.

25. Apollo Sunshine Shall Noise Upon

Like the Beatles? Like classic rock? Anti-folk? Country? Jam? “Indie?” Well, it’d be best to run out and pick up this record immediately. It’s great to see Apollo Sunshine constantly producing great music, and their work in the studio has certainly begun to equal their live presence. What’s the worst thing about the record? The fact that it hasn’t been getting its proper due.

24. Kanye West808s and Heartbreak

Here’s what my friend had to say to me about this album while arguing about it the other day:

“He doesn’t rap!”

“It’s all electronics!”

Now, on paper/screen image, it’s impossible to register the confused disgust in my friends voice. That’s because he was just making statements, though ones marked with hatred towards the album. For a person who isn’t neccesarily looking for a formula, 808s and Heartbreaks is a solid pop record. The beats are, if anything, still fresh, “despite” the electronics of it. And the auto-tone? Well, it’s better than T-Pain. Moreover, songs like “Say You Will” and “Coldest Winter” seem to stick to the inside of your head no matter what the ratio of electronic singing to rapping may be.

23. Hot ChipMade In The Dark

It’s got some of the best dance tunes of the year, and some of the oddest slow dance songs of the year. You have to give it a hand to Hot Chip to keep on revitalizing their sound and style and interspersing it with effects from reggaeton to two-step to old school soul.

22. The Black KeysAttack & Release

Danger Mouse. Danger Mouse is like cowbell for those musicians who aren’t Blue Oyster Cult. With Attack & Release, DM revitalizes The Black Keys tired and true approach and certainly makes it less tired, working in to fill in the blanks that come with only having a guitar and drum. The funky bump of “Strange Times” and wistful ballad of “Psychotic Girl” have helped revitalize my own faith in this band.

21. Marnie SternThis Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That

Here’s a record for folks who think that the world of the guitar virtuoso is gender oriented. Marnie Stern can shred faster than most of those old phallic hair metal acts, and she does it well to boot. AC/DC-styled riffs at chipmunk paces, math-stylized song structures, and Zach Hill make for pop-fueled fun.

20. Wilderness(k)no(w)here

When the vocals on “High Nero” kick in halfway through the song, it’s as if Wilderness grabs you and goes, “where have you been?” I can’t believe it took me until this band’s 3rd album to discover them, and what a treat it is. Stormy, ambient psych-folk combined with brutally haunting vocals that don’t so much scare as orate tales of loss and redemption. Too bad it’s over far too quickly.

19. Dr. Dog Fate

Another band that took me far too long to discover, but this was purely out of my musical filtering mechanism: the name Dr. Dog just has no appeal. Fortunately, their music is an entirely different beast, a wonderful combination of Beatles melodies, country-fried guitar rants by The Band, and who-knows-where-we’ll-go-with-this-song of good ole’ indie rock. These guys might actually turn me on to classic rock instead of the other way around.

18. Chad VanGaalenSoft Airplane

VanGaalen’s third album is also his best (so far at least), and a complete picture as well; previous records sounded like a mess of VanGaalen screwing around in his basement with random instruments he created and a few good tunes surviving. Well, here that process has paid off, with some of his most mind-gnawing work to date: death, freak-folk, and oftly odd melodies crash and collide to make a great listen all the way through.

17. AliasResurgam

It’s been a banner year for Anticon, and Resurgam is just one of many great records to come out of this Oakland collective over the last couple of years. Almost entirely composed of instrumental work, it’s an ambient take on old school hip-hop that will put you in a state of relaxation for hours on end. It even seems a bit unpleasant when the two vocal songs kick in, at least until you recognize that the same music sits at the foreground of the album.

16. Beach HouseDevotion

I was itrigued to see how Beach House, a band who’s music could easily lull one to sleep, would perform under the insurmountable pressure that comes with taking the stage at Siren Music Festival. Facing the grueling heat, packed crowds of hipsters, and set time near the end of a long, long day, Beach House performed as beautifully as their melodies. Devotion is a spellbinding, ambient mess of tunes that work under any weather or state of emotion. Victoria Legrand’s voice is as soothing as it is soulful, and it carries the entire album to its sleepy-headed end.

15. No AgeNouns

No Age’s Nouns is filled with the kind of songs you seem to know before you even hear them. They’re packed with anthemic punk-rock riffs and bursts, yet remain emotionally perplexing and experimentally arousing. And it’s loud as hell. It’s hardcore for the arty crowd, art for the little punks in us all, and something for everyone.

14. WaleMixtape About Nothing

Here’s a hip-hop artist with a good head on his shoulders and an ego that’s perfectly comfortable in a realm where folks have to defend theirs at every turn. That could be because Wale can crank out dozens of tunes about something as archaic to hip-hop as Seinfeld can be… and it’s great too. Infuse sick rhyming and lyrical foreplay with old school hip-hop meets go-go (and perhaps that genre’s ticket out of D.C.) and tons of rap’s biggest names and you wouldn’t feel the need to defend one’s ego either.

13. The BugLondon Zoo

In an odds-and-ends collection of articles, a close friend of Lester Bangs’ describes PiL’s Metal Box as a musical accompanyment to his depression. In many ways, London Zoo feels like an equally derranged equivalent; the record is so dark, intense, and angry, I’ve yet to listen to the entire album in one sitting. But its intensity displays its musical muscle, as deep-in-your-chest bass grinds with glitchy grime and head-banging dancehall to create one intensely personal meditation on the nadir of society. Not for the weak, but definitely for the musically ambitious.

12. Forest FireSurvival

Here’s a summer record for you – sprawling lo-fi folk that mixes with Velvet Underground-style proto-punk and garage rock done on spare acoustic instruments. It’s enchanting and oft-aggressive, and man does it get in your head and stay there. And to think, they gave this gem away for free…

11. SubtleExiting Arm

The impact of collaborations with members of TV on the Radio bear their mark on Subtle, who’s Exiting Arm takes their sound and turns it to the noises in between. Whereas on earlier recordings Doseone could often be heard spitting rhymes at 100 mph, here his vocals are subdued and sink into the tapestry, which taverses across an odd array of sounds and vibrations, but is a whole product throughout. The minute I heard this thing in an ice cream place over the summer I knew it was stuck to me; months later it’s yet to leave my head.

10. Food For AnimalsBelly

Noise and hip-hop? Whodathunkit? Food For Animals, that’s who. And that’s why Belly, the long-delayed first album from the DC/Baltimore group, is in the top 10. It’s hard to find an album more ambitious in its sound and execution than FFA’s, and it’s as accessible as any other hip-hop blaring on mainstream radio today. It’s glitchy, bass heavy, and dark as hell, but this trio certainly spins some sick off-beats and rhymes that are more shout-along-chorus-friendly than anything else.

9. Friendly FiresFriendly Fires

This is what the Foals record could have been, and what I originally wished it was: a great post-punk dance piece. Infusing that genre with strains of disco, salsa, and Brit pop, Friendly Fires’ debut defines irresistible. The music is taught and catchy, the sound gets in your head and shakes your hips, and the hits keep coming. Friendly Fires sounds like a singles collection, with each track as pop-friendly as the last – funny to think this is the band’s first record.

8. The Dodos Visiter

It may be due to the fact that I had this album on repeat for most of the spring, but Visiter seems to uphold a sense of rebirth and newborn energy that’s often so hard for musicians to capture. Some folks cast the band off as acoustic Animal Collective wannabes, but the album is a beast unto its creators, filled with child-like enthusiasm and sincerity that makes them altogether unique.

7. The Mae ShiHLLLYH

2008 could be the year of concept albums, or, more correctly, the year that produced a handful of great concept albums. The Mae Shi’s tribute to the end of the world sounds positively, well, great. It’s scary, but the band’s mix of agit-punk, twee, and art pop have an endearing effect that carry through the morbid lyrics of “Run To Your Grave” (and that title to boot). It’s got energy and vigor that blasts through the entire album, one concept to the last. For such a depressing topic to tackle, these guys sure make it sound fun.

6. Neon NeonStainless Style

Nostalgia can be a killer, and it’s flogged the 80s past the state of decay, but man oh man do Neon Neon know how to make a bad thing sound great. To call it nostalgia however is making the great concept of Stainless Style seem passe, when in fact it’s a record more “with it” than countless other albums released this year. Much as Gnarls Barkley emphasized “neo” in their neo-soul mix debut two years ago, Neon Neon take the aesthetic tics of 80s pop and place it into an entirely new landscape. It makes it so that the chincy-sounding synth sounds altogether refreshing on tracks like “Dream Cars” or “I Told Her On Alderaan.” It also helps that this project came from the meeting between oddball producer Boom Bip and even-odderball Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys, and they certainly saved their pop-tooth for this record.

5. PonytailIce Cream Spiritual

Ponytail put on one of the best shows I’ve seen this year – so good, I saw them thrice. So I was immediately drawn to the record after grabbing an early release copy after seeing them, doing nothing but playing it for weeks straight. After my mania over the album subsided, I can safely say it’s still a fantastic record. It’s a swirling mess of punk-art-rawk, one that caterwauls off of every surface and smoothly glides through the down-tempos and down singer Molly Siegel’s over-worked larynx to create a record that seethes with passion and power. Kudos to producer J. Robbins for wrestling their great live sound into a well-preserved recording.

4. Sun Kil Moon April

April opens with a song that nearly hits the 10 minute mark, and could have sustained my rapt attention tenfold. “Lost Verses” sweeps along like any Mark Kozelek song, yet there’s something profoundly new and slightly different than the frontman’s previous efforts. It could be his meditation over the death of a former muse, who’s image is never quite literally addressed, but who’s absence hangs over the entire record. Whatever it is, Kozelek delivers every last line with undue sincerity, and it’s probably because they are his own; in retrospect, the biggest problem with Tiny Cities, the last Sun Kil Moon album made entirely of Modest Mouse covers, is that the music wasn’t created by Kozelek himself (although he does a great job of re-imagining most of the songs on the album). But here, you get the sense that Kozelek’s body struggles with every pick at his guitar, even though all you’re left is with that voice and no image behind it. But what a voice it is.

3. Parts & LaborReceivers/Escapers Two

For a band that makes a lot of noise, Parts & Labor have made music for just about everyone. Receivers is a fantastic opus of noise juxtaposed against anthemic, stadium-sized pop rock. The electronic bursts and blips are still there, but they’ve become a fixture of a larger pattern; noise doesn’t give way to bubblegum hooks and back again, but it’s all intertwined throughout the album. From “Satellites” to “Solemn Show World,” there’s a song for the punk in everyone (and every punk who submitted sound samples is in a song). For those who don’t like getting too close to accessiblity, Escapers Two offers 50+ “grind pop” songs, most of which barely hit the minute mark and have the mark of dark metal and hardcore punk bursting from the seems… at times, it’s quite beautiful to boot.

2. Why?Alopecia

What a pleasant surprise Alopecia turned out to be. Why?’s previous work always had some inadvertantly beautiful quality to it, but it’d always been battling a range of sounds and ideas passed out by Yoni Wolf. On Alopecia it comes together in a brilliant and cohesive work, with Wolf’s lyrics and stories spilling into one another, but neither clouding up the music or his often enticing nasaly rasp. And, much like most of the top albums of the year, it is a whole product instead of a combination of some good songs repackaged for consumption.

1. TV On The RadioDear Science,

Numbers or not, there was no question this would be my number one album of the year. From the opening moments of “Halfway Home,” I knew this would be a fantastic album. Unlike Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes and Return To Cookie Mountain, Dear Science, is a fully fleshed-out album from beginning to end as each track seemlessly gluides from one to the next. The band’s turn to a poppier and all together accessable sound is just as natural as their work as a band in and of itself; they’re still pushing musical boundaries, using a wide array of feedback and avant-guard noises, but it’s an altogether cohesive and beautiful mess.

Albums I wish I had more time with, because they probably would have made this list:

For those of us who can’t get our hands on every available album to come out this year, it certainly made the “best of” list process a bit more difficult because, having heard at least snipets of the following albums, I wish I’d gotten them all. But, there is always time for more new music. Anyway, here are the ones I would have liked to have on my list:

High PlacesHigh Places

Extra LifeSecular Works

Fall Out BoyFolie á Deux

BeckModern Guilt

The Notwist The Devil, You + Me

HEALTHHEALTH/DISCO

Eddy Current Suppression RingPrimary Colours

Lykke Li Youth Novels

Dan FrielGhost Town

Eagles of Death Metal Heart On

Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes

Edie Sedgwick Things Are Getting Sinister And Sinisterer

Heavy Heavy Low LowTurtle Nipple and the Toxic Shock

SpiritualizedSongs in A&E

Death VesselNothing Is Precious Enough For Us

DoomtreeDoomtree

Miloshiii

El Ten ElevenThese Promises Are Being Videotaped

School of Seven BellsAlpinisms

Fucked UpThe Chemistry of Common Life

DananananaykroydSissy Hits

Hot Club de ParisLive at Dead Lake

Best of 2008 from 2007:

The albums from last year that made a lasting impact this year.

The Dillinger Escape PlanIre Works

Bon IverFor Emma, Forever Ago

Double DaggerRagged Rubble

VideohipposUnbeast The Leash

MusclesGuns Babes Lemonade

Kanye Wemo

It’s been a number of days, but Stereogum’s post on Kanye West’s “Coldest Winter” caught my eye for oh so many reasons. Of course, images offer the best summation. Thanks Stereogum:

Kanye = emo?

Kanye = emo?

The post offers an interesting look at the perception of emo today. Given that Stereogum doesn’t play into mainstream music standards and often prides itself on its (quite excellent) ability to subvert and branch beyond the increasingly formulaic indie tastebuds (see Brandon Stosuy’s “The Outsiders” column), its odd to see the light of emo in such a stereotypical mess. Not than Stosuy’s article wasn’t in good fun – it certainly was. But the responses certainly reeked of the tired-and-true attacks for and against emo:

Being sad about yr mom dying=so emo.

Posted by: Liam at 10/17/08 4:40 PM | Reply
Score = 8 Vote up Vote down

i have to kind of agree with the whole kanye gone emo concept…i think that it has to do with the passing of his moms thats taking the toll on some of his music…but this 808’s and Heartbreak album should be excellent if the songs r like heartless, love lockdown, and coldest winter

Posted by: Malcom at 10/18/08 12:50 PM | Reply
Score = 0 Vote up Vote down

Kanye gone emo? Do you people even know what emo is? Obviously you don’t if you’re including Fall Out Boy in your emo jokes. Fall Out Boy is not an emo band, and the word emo has been mangled and twisted so much that it’s hard for idiots like you to recognize real emo if you see it. And you won’t see it if you’re listening to any recent music that is relatively mainstream. Quit using the word “emo” as a diss, especially when you have no concept of the real mean. And lay off Kanye for making music that has emotion and feeling. At least somebody still speaks from his soul.

Posted by: Ty at 10/20/08 1:17 AM | Reply
Score = -3 Vote up Vote down

Elliot

The best is when emo kids defend emo by saying it’s not emo. Hilarity ensues.

Posted by: Elliot profile link in reply to Ty’s comment at 10/21/08 12:52 AM | Reply
Score = 0
Vote up

I could easily break each argument down, see what the writer was thinking. But, that might be a waste of time. I’ve often found arguing over forums an unproductive and anger-inducing waste of time; when you’ve got someone so vehemently closed-minded about a subject railing against it, there’s no way they’d take the time of day to consider even the most well-researched, intelligent case against their voice. Granted, most of these posts aren’t anger filled, but there’s a certain close-mindedness associated with them that I sometimes wish didn’t exist in the realm of underground music; you’d think most people attracted to seemingly un-mainstream art would therefore subvert total musical close-mindedness. Or at least keep it in check.

So it goes.

But the Kanye track is pretty awesome in its own right. As far as the “shitty sound” I’ve seen posted about this song and the previous other ones, if this is indeed the aesthetic that Kanye is going for, I’ve got to give him more credit than I usually do. As I learned under the tutelage of Wayne Marshall, hip-hop producers from different parts of the globe have come to embrace the “shitty” sound many listeners tend to notice in the new Kanye tracks. In trying to make their music accessible for the masses, these producers embrace a sound that they know will sound good coming out of speakers or systems of poor quality. That can be anything from laptops and computer speakers to cell phones; after all, when audiophiles talk about getting the perfect listening experience, they drop words like “vinyl” and “surround sound.” But these things cost money, which isn’t exactly going around freely at the moment. By creating a sound that may come across as rough, flat, jarring, or however you want to categorize it, Kanye is producing music that is immediately accessible to music players (and those who own them) of all kinds; from laptops to concert-hall speakers, it’ll sound the same one way or the other. It might even sound better on a cell phone…

*Speaking of Wayne, he’s helping throw an event down in JP at the Milky Way on Thursday featuring Cabide DJ, who’s something of a funke carioca producer extraordinare. Check out Wayne’s site for much more info on the guy. If only I didn’t have these damn GREs, I’d be there in a second.

Receivers

Receivers

*Parts & Labor’s Receivers is out today. 3/4 of the way through the first listen and it’s quite an album so far – easily the most accessible album of theirs to date. They’re touring around this fall promoting the album so check them out – they put on one hell of a show.

Building the Playing

Down in New York for the weekend, I decided to take a break from some ear-shattering concerts (short review: Deerhoof rocked Prospect Park, Parts & Labor absolutely killed it at Siren Music Festival) to check out David Byrne’s Playing the Building exhibit at the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan. The instillation is a wonderful little experiment. Byrne rigged up an old organ and attached each key to a tube that then sets off a sound within different parts of the building. Each key either triggers the sound of banging, whistling, or vibrating in different portions of the structure, thereby creating the concept of “playing the building.”

There are various ideas encapsulated within the instillation that resonate within emo and numerous punk and post-punk genres, to which Byrne himself has been such a vibrant part of since he was a founding member of Talking Heads. The instillation is meant to be an exploration of music in that the sounds emitting from the organ are in no ways linear by classical standards of tuning or performance; while classically-trained musicians will find frustration in the process, those without any musical background and “non-musicians” should potentially use the opportunity to explore making music on such an open template. Whereas knowing how to play an instrument versus a lack of experience or knowledge is the first of many boundaries that helped create the olde world rock status that punk revolted against, Byrne’s installation destroys all those boundaries. If anything, it shifts those boundaries against those with formal training, making it frustrating for those individuals to attempt to create the kind of compositions they’re used to.

Aside from that, Byrne’s exhibit makes it able for anyone with access to said exhibit and patience to wait in line the temporary ability to try their hand at making music (or just plain noise) for a temporary amount of time. Part of what makes emo (and other punk genres) so appealing is that it’s focused on allowing every individual to make music by their own means (or rather, any individual who is up to the task of doing that). But hey, instruments aren’t like penny candy, and those are usually the first resources to grab in order to make music. With Playing the Building, all you need is a Metro card and the ability to sign a waver and you have your chance to make your own noise.

After a 20 minute wait, I tried my hand at “Chopsticks” and fooled around with the keys before quickly getting up, taking a good-humored bow for the patient folks who were behind me. Look out Lil Wayne, I’m about to grab your spot on Billboard.

EXTRA EXTRA:

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

More good news from the land of upcoming releases. TV on the Radio have announced the release of their next album! Due out at the end of September, Dear Science, should be another great addition to what has been a wonderful array of noise, punk, and art-rock releases for 2008. Never mind my usual attempts to discuss hype, but whatever you want to call this collection of underground music bubbling up around the country it’s looking to be big. The new new alternative? Maybe. Whatever the case may be, it sure sounds great.

UGK vs TV on the Radio – I Was an International Player (Hood Internet)

Art With Flavor

Giddy would be a great explanation for how I felt when I saw this news release from Jagjaguwar:

We’re proud to announce that PARTS & LABOR will be releasing their new album, “Receivers,” on 10/21/08 here in the US and 11/03/08 in the UK.

Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor has become one of my favorite bands in recent years, and it’s been simply wonderful to see them grow as an artistic entity and in the eyes of the music community. In a handful of years and successive releases, they’ve turned from an anthemic noise act of uncompromising creativity into the center of a vibrant underground music scene in Brooklyn. With the release of Receivers in October, there is no doubt they’ll continue on their trajectory of making outstanding music. From the sound of it, they’ve already managed to do that. Pitchfork released the track titled “Nowheres Nigh” today, and chances are, P&L aren’t far off from joining a number of their critically-acclaimed contemporaries. The song is pure pop, but still contains those elements that make Parts & Labor such an anomaly; the clashing sounds of electronic blips float with ease atop shoegaze waves of fuzz, while Joe Wong maniacally bashes away on the drum-kit in the background and BJ Warshaw exemplifies the poppiest vocal work to rival any previous track the band has made. It’s a change-up for the band, but it keeps to their mantra of pushing their own creative notions.

old Parts & Labor live pic

old Parts & Labor live pic

I’ve been lucky enough to see Parts & Labor grow in time with a bit of my own maturation. While interning at Rock Sound magazine in London, I introduced the folks at the magazine to Parts & Labor after throwing their then-upcoming release (Mapmaker) onto the stereo. The staff instantly fell in love with the band as I won a little cred in their books; pretty soon I was interviewing Dan Friel for an “Exposure” piece on the band, no doubt bringing them into the homes of many new UK fans. A year later I had the pleasure of putting on a show with the band at Brandeis University; I was involved in putting on a lot of great shows in Chums coffeehouse (the venue of choice at Brandeis), but the Parts & Labor show was one of my favorites. A month ago I treked down to Brooklyn for the After The Jump Fest, where Dan pointed out what acts to check out, which included a set by newly-acquired P&L guitarist Sarah Lipstate’s solo project, Noveller.

I’m more than happy to say that I will also be a part of the next Parts & Labor album. While they worked away on Receivers, Parts & Labor asked fans to send in audio samples, leaving four questions as guides. I sent in a little something, and although I have no idea how they used it, the band has decided to use every single submitted audio sample for their record. Now if that’s not the sign of an inclusive, open community I don’t know what is. Of course, those ideas go hand in hand with Parts & Labor; besides the musical influence of punk’s past, the ideological influence of the DIY, hardcore and post-hardcore greats that filled the 80s is especially strong in how the band runs everything. And community, as strong as it is within the lineage of emo (and I shall write no more on emo and community for this post), is an especially strong aspect of Parts & Labor’s existence and coexistence. Friel and Warshaw even went as far as to create their own record label – Cardboard records – in order to release material from bands that they felt a strong ideological, musical, and personal connection to. Just as, say, Dischord (ok, I lied a little bit about two sentences ago) became an epicenter for a small, DC punk community, Cardboard has become a connection for like-minded musicians across the country. Just pick up Love and Circuits, a double album compiling all the bands that Parts & Labor has shared a communal bond with, and you’ll hear a fraction of the bands involved in the American art-punk/noise/whatever you want to call it community. Just as a record label, a venue, or a town can become centers of musical and cultural scenes, in their own way Parts & Labor – as a band and an idea – have also become something of a meeting point for a community.

The Cardboard Family

The Cardboard Family

Parts & Labor will be performing at Siren Music Festival this Saturday and Whartscape this Sunday. Make it to the shows if you can.

Parts & Labor – Nowheres Nigh

Parts & Labor – The Gold We’re Digging (video):

Double Double

In one corner, weighing in at 6 members is The Mae Shi, with support from The Death Set, at Great Scott.

The Mae Shi live

The Mae Shi live

In the other, pulling together as a duo is No Age, with a little help from High Places and Abe Vigoda, at the Middle East Downstairs.

No Age

No Age

It is a challenge to behold… For music fans of Boston, tonight’s concert calendar will have a tough choice, but either event will provide a winner. This may be a match for an individual’s night, but it is no way a battle between acts. This cavalcade of musicians rolling through town represents some of the brightest acts from the three pivotal underground music communities today.

The Mae Shi, No Age, and Abe Vigoda mastered their craft and honed in on their acts out in LA. There, they (along with a multitude of other acts) formed a community dedicated to furthering the boundaries of art and punk. It’s a living, breathing unit that can be seen in the 40 Bands 80 Minutes documentary (it is what it says – 40 bands performing 2 minute songs in a sweaty LA venue) or on any regular evening at The Smell, the all ages venue that No Age placed smack dab on the cover of their 2007 album Weirdo Rippers. With the critical acclaim these three acts – alongside peers such as HEALTH and Mika Miko – have been receiving, the LA underground scene has once again been thrown into the national music limelight.

The Smell

The Smell

Although LA has received a considerable amount of attention, so has Brooklyn (home of High Places) and, more than any other area, Baltimore (home of The Death Set). Forever cast in the shadows of nearby, larger areas (Baltimore has DC, and although Brooklyn is a part of NYC, Manhattan has always dominated the other burroughs), these tiny, seemingly-culturally deprived areas have burst with creative ingenuity in all forms of the arts. Baltimore has built an insular community to match its small sized, and has since been propelled to the national level thanks in part to the Wham City collective and its unofficial head Dan Deacon; in little pockets of a city that most residents have either forgotten or never cared about, out came a sprawling arts basin that seems as communally inbred as it is creative. Venture north a number of hours and you hit Brooklyn, itself a sprawling mass of space that’s cheaper – and therefore, more attractive to aspiring artists looking to make it in the big city. Any busted-up storefront could easily be turned into an art gallery or performance space, and a good number of them art (at least in the Williamsburg area). Out of it has formed numerous art-punk acts as wide spread, yet communally linked; TV On The Radio, Battles, Parts & Labor, and a ton of others all call this place home.

Baltimores Video Hippos at Brooklyns Death by Audio

Baltimore's Video Hippos at Brooklyn's Death by Audio

Both Baltimore and Brooklyn offer scenes that are in close proximity to areas of cultural resonance, but their chance location has given both places an almost-secluded quality which has allowed these communities to prosper and trade ideas amongst one another without the eye of the mainstream music world staring down upon them. LA, though a mainstream cultural capital in its own respect, is so spread out that over the past few decades, it has allowed for numerous musically-based culture movements to spawn and spread out of little pockets in the vast city side and across the suburban sprawl. These communities are created and developed in the guise of complete creativity, without the influence and impact of commercial interest to hinder, attract, or distract anything or anyone from the ultimate goal of creation. These qualities are the typical stamp-of-approval for the development of underground art communities in the US; the resources are there in almost every location in America, but it takes a special formula of location, individuals, and atmosphere to make it work.

This is an important aspect of the development and continued thriving of emo as an underground cultural force. It’s still one that drives the many different voices of emo in its current underground status. True, emo has become a fashionable commodity, but it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t continued to thrive as an underground culture, one separate from its mainstream state. It’s the ideas of creativity and independence that the innovators of the culture imbued into its artistic essence that not only kept emo in the underground for so long (around 15-17 years, depending on when you choose to mark its beginning and entrance into the mainstream). When what became known as “emo” began in the ashes of DC’s hardcore scene, a good chunk of the punk music community scorned it as hardcore had yet to hit its dramatic fall on the national level. DC was (and in many ways, still is) ignored by the music industry as an important place, so emo transformed, unfettered by outsiders and made for the better by community members. As Fugazi became the scene’s main touring act and magnet, their sound became a beacon to anyone looking beyond the convention of punk and broadcast a vibrant and diverse aural image of emo around the world.

Fugazi

Fugazi

From there, communities outside of the insular DC scene began to form around the idea of emo. The strongest cross-state emo community to arise didn’t occur until the mid 90s. While connections formed among artists from different scenes (Sunny Day Real Estate and Shudder To Think as touring partners comes to mind), the mid 90s provided a time when scenes across the country formed their own little pockets and ideas of emo, yet would come together to share them. Outside of DC (which added Chisel and The Dismemberment Plan to their list), the East Coast had pockets of sound; NYC had Texas Is The Reason, New Jersey had Lifetime, Boston had Karate and Jejune (who later moved to California), and down in Florida (if you want to count it as the East Coast) there was Hot Water Music.

Mineral

Mineral

But the mid 90s and emo will forever be associated with the Mid-West, where the bands were as connected to their hometown scenes as they were with the rest of the middle-country-divide. Cap’n Jazz, The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, Braid, The Get Up Kids, Boy’s Life, and dozens more upon hundreds of those which may never be heard by the masses have formed a dominant portrait of a land and time in the emo narrative. The places they came from are all different and so are their ideas, but they all came together to form a variety of sounds that continue to exist within popularized forms of emo today. Consider it the time of multiculturalism in underground American punk. While the national hardcore scene transformed local sounds into one big rule-based notion of musical defiance summarized in a minute and a half of screams and thrashing guitars, the mid 90s Mid-West emo scene allowed for individual pockets to develop their version of emo undeterred by outsiders all while coming together to form bonds and trade ideas to enhance their individual perspectives. This can be seen in everything from split singles on vinyl (such as the Jimmy Eat World/Christie Front Drive split that attracted the attention of Captiol Records) to a shared creation of lyrics (The Promise Ring’s “Picture Postcard” attributes some lyrical content to Braid’s Bob Nanna), to simple ties of friendship that extend past inter-state routes. Just as the movers and shakers of today’s underground music scenes breach state lines to form communities while continuing to build their local ones, emo became a strong presence throughout America before it became a mainstream phenomenon. Those connections kept it a living, moving center of a community, and that notion continues to drive like-minded individuals who operate under whatever label they choose to this very day.
No Age – Eraser

The Mae Shi – Vampire Beats (video):

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: