Tag Archives: Say Anything

List-less

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Used – “The Taste of Ink”

3. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue”

4. Senses Fail – “Can’t Be Saved”

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

Huh?

What?

Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Had To Happen…

I’m referring to a Get Up Kids interview featured on The Drowned In Sound website. Though it’s only been online for a matter of hours, it’s attracted a wave of attention for a rather misinterpreted quote that goes to the tune of GET UP KIDS APOLOGIZE FOR EMO on several other news sites reporting on the interview. It’s a rather brief moment in the conversation, but Get Up Kids guitarist Jim Suptic had this to say when pressed on the term “emo”:

Honestly, I don’t often think about the state of ’emo’. The punk scene we came out of and the punk scene now are completely different. It’s like glam rock now. We played the Bamboozle fests this year and we felt really out of place. I could name maybe three bands we played with. It was just a sea of neon shirts to us. If this is the world we helped create, then I apologise.

Valid points, sure enough. Surely, I tend to appreciate it when bands generally refuse to bash groups that they’ve influenced, instead taking the high road and not delving into that subject simply to not unnecessarily stir any bad blood. What’s funny about all this is that Suptic really is speaking the truth about not keeping up with the state of emo. After all, what he’s describing sounds like scrunk, a sound that’s definitely indebted to and a part of the geneology of emo, but a creation that exists unto itself.

How do I know it’s scrunk Suptic is referring to? Well, the neon shirts are a dead give away. But so is the part of his following answer:

We at least can play our instruments.

Same ole’, same ole’. But, to each his own. I never particularly liked much of the Get Up Kids stuff to begin with… I can understand the role they had in both accelerating emo’s ascent to the top of the charts and providing support for the Vagrant business model, but most of their tunes I just can’t dig. But, as Suptic reveals in the interview, they certainly do fit into the 2nd wave emo lineage:

Fugazi is the reason I am in a band today. When I was 14 I heard Fugazi and started a band the next day. We grew up on indie rock. Superchunk, Rocket from the Crypt, Sunny Day Real Estate, Cap’n Jazz. That’s the kind of stuff we were listening to when we started.

Sounds familiar. And though Superchunk and Rocket aren’t emo bands, Superchunk is noted to have a pretty solid influence on 90s indie music, including emo (The Promise Ring anyone? That’s all Pitchfork could do when talking about TPR was to compare the two), and Rocket are a Drive Like Jehu offshoot of post-hardcore. Basically your out-of-the-ordinary ordinary roundup of influences for a second wave emo act.

This whole thing could potentially snowball into the Tim Kinsella vs Max Bemis free-for-all, though Tim had a more malicious rant against the emo acts he inspired, and Max had just as much venom when tossing insults right back. Good for Suptic for generally foregoing all the drama of attacking every band in Alternative Press and generally letting them be, even if he can’t give them credit for their music. Oh well.

The Get Up Kids – “Action & Action” (video):

VS

The Bamboozle fare… BrokeNCYDE – “40 oz” (video):

I’ll Sing Anything for a Buck…

Nine Inch Nails/A Perfect Circle drummer Josh Freese may have grabbed headlines for his unusual promotional tool for promoting and covering the costs for his new album, Since 1972. For a certain price, you could get anything from a digital download of the album ($7) straight to a weekend with the man himself, mini golf with members of Tool and Devo, and a couple of songs about yourself for a measly $20,000, which one 19 year old was more than happy to pony-up for. Call it the Radiohead/NIN/whatever model on speed.

Well, Freese certainly isn’t the only one of trying to figure out how to make ends meet in the new age of music. Freese made the idea to focus on connecting music directly with the fans, but hand it to an emo artist to make it truly accessible. Always focused on connecting with fans, Say Anything‘s Max Bemis has opened his guitar case to his legions of fans with a little cash in hand.

picture-15

All you need is $150 and it’s all you’ve got a song all to yourself. Well, sort of…

Max’s heart is in the right place, but his contract isn’t. The concepts that drove bands like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and even Jimmy Eat World (post-Clarity posting of demos on Napster and recently with Clarity Live) were/are about challenging the way music is heard and consumed in our society. But therein lies the problem with the Say Anything song-about-yourself query. Just take a look at the terms and conditions:

 

“All songs are written by Max for you. Max and his record label retain all rights to the songs and you do not have permission to sell MP3’s, CDs or any other format known or unknown in this universe or any other. This is strictly for personal use by you and your dead dog.

Max didn’t want his team of lawyers to feel left out so we have asked them to further explain some rules and regulations, if you want your song you will need to agree to the following:

For good and valuable consideration, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, you agree that Max and his successors and assigns will own all right, title and interest to the songs delivered to you, and RCA Music Group and their successors and assigns will own all right, title and interest to the master recordings delivered to you as a work for hire (such songs and master recordings are referred to below as the “Works”). These retained rights to the Works include the worldwide copyright and any and all renewal and extension rights, and the unrestricted right to use and exploit the Works by any and all means through any and all media now known or hereafter devised, either alone or coupled with other materials, without any payment to you. You agree that you will use the Works only for your personal listening pleasure, and you will not copy, sell, distribute, publicly perform or exploit the Works in any manner whatsoever. Without limiting the foregoing, you will not make CDs or MP3s of the Works, you will not put the Works up on any website, and you will not allow the Works to be used in any manner that would allow any peer-to-peer access.”

 

Really, even though the song may be about you, if that’s what you want it to be about. But it won’t be your song. You’ll get a copy sent straight to you, with all the thoughtfulness that Max can no doubt squeeze out. But “your song” will belong solely to the RCA Music Group, not you. Even though it’s yours, you cannot burn it or share it with friends… technically when you own something, you should therefore have the right to do whatever you want with it, especially if you paid top dollar for said product. And sure, it makes sense to not sell or otherwise distribute the song for money, but to allow RCA to have the power over the song and to be able to distribute it themselves in whatever manner they please is a bit disconcerting.

It’s with something like an RCA contract agreement hidden in the terms of service that really makes the entire concept kind of a moot point. What happens when fifteen friends decide to chip in $10 each and buy a song? Do they have to choose which friend gets the song, or risk breaking the contract by copying it for one another?

Still, I’m quite torn about the entire thing… the terms of agreement would invalidate the entire concept. But, Say Anything certainly has grown into one of the better bands today, amassing a fan base it certainly deserves. That said, $150 is perfectly reasonable for the man behind the band to cook up a song for you. Hell, I’m even considering it, despite the objections I’m posing. No, I wouldn’t want a song about me, though I appreciate the idea wholeheartedly; it reminds me a lot of the role of the griots, who were musicians in West Africa that served under the royal families and memorized elaborate royal histories and recited them through song. Except this is much more democratized. And the small fee for a band that still holds a special place in my heart and who’s …Is A Real Boy remains one of my favorite albums to this day. I’d be willing to swing that much, even with the massive chunk it would take out of the small amount of money I have. But if I can’t burn it on a mix for friends, what the hell would I do with a $150 song? I’m all about sharing the joy of music – that’s one of the reasons this blog exists!

Perhaps I could go with The Cocker Spaniels for my personal-music fix: for as low as $25, the band will write a song that incorporates an idea you have. Pay a little more, and you’ll get a little more (including a percentage of royalties made off the song’s sales), and all the proceeds go to sustaining the musicians themselves, which is what the entire concept behind all of these new experiments with setting-your-music-prices is supposed to be about – sustaining the artists without ripping off the listeners!

It all feels a little too much like self-referential window shopping, though, there’s not much interest in injecting my personal life into anyone else’s work. Though, unless Max Bemis would want to write a song about America Is Just A Word. Now that’s just meta. Max, if you’re interested and want to use the potential song for some YouTube clip or whatever the hell you want, just drop me a line! Otherwise, I’ll find some way of gathering $150 to get Max to make a song about the plot of Infinite Jest (and there’s a nice way of getting around the 2 paragraph maximum description they ask for… and the book would operate as a footnote to the description… making David Foster Wallace proud as ever!)

597-Way Tie For Most Eclectic Proposal

What could have been - fake cover for a famously rejected proposal

What could have been - fake cover for a famously rejected proposal

The 33 1/3 blog released the final list of the nearly 600 potential books on a wide variety of albums that Continuum received after the call for open proposals a little while ago.

Needless to say, it’s quite a list. It’s interesting to see what albums people are passionate enough about to fill an entire book, and think about numerous individuals (who most likely don’t know one another) who came together at the same entry period and wrote a proposal about the same record (Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville and Slint’s Spiderland got a lot of props).

Perhaps what’s great to see is the number of emo albums that have been proposed. In general, it’s a generous heaping of bands in the large arc of emo’s narrative. There’s Fugazi (who received numerous proposals from their discography), Lungfish, Jawbreaker, Jimmy Eat World, Say Anything, and (of course) Fall Out Boy.

Now, I must admit, I submitted a proposal too. Mine is for The Promise Ring’s 1997 album, Nothing Feels Good.

Nothing Feels Good Album Cover

Nothing Feels Good Album Cover

From the looks of all the proposals, it sure must be tough to choose 20 or so out of hundreds of great ideas. But, I’ve got my fingers crossed for my idea. And it’s not just because I am the one who wrote and worked on the proposal. Rather, I feel it’s record that needs to be discussed, and one that hasn’t had the proper opportunity to be carefully observed and thoughtfully written about in the thorough manner that every 33 1/3 book requires. Nothing Feels Good is still as astounding today as the day it was released (nearly) twelve years ago, and its impact on popular music today is equaled by a handful of other albums. Hell, even the folks at Pitchfork who frequently turn their nose down on emo acts and albums loved The Promise Ring’s sophomore disc. If that doesn’t show some middle ground between mainstream popular music listening (to which TPR has had undeniable influence over and certainly had an appeal towards, despite the indie circuit with which they traveled in) and elitist-leaning tastemaking, I don’t know what does.

Hopefully, the editors of the series will think so as well. And one of the first handful of comments sure gave me some hope:

Anonymous Anonymous said…
I thought pitching a book on the Hold Steady was a long shot, but the fact that there were two other proposals for Separation Sunday puts some of my fears to rest…

I appreciate seeing some of my high school staples getting pitched: 24 hour revenge, clarity, nothing feels good… I can, indeed, still feel the butterflies…

tw

2:21 PM

Good luck to everyone who worked hard to get those proposals in on time, and same to the Continuum folks who no doubt will have a lot of hard thinking to do!

9 Things To Look Forward To in 2009

2008 is almost gone as the New Year will arrive in a matter of hours (or it may have already arrived depending on when you read this). So, in anticipation for the number of times I’ll forget to put “2009” on whatever documents need a proper year, here’s a little listing of 9 things I’ll be looking forward to in the next year…

9. Surprises

I suppose this is something resembling a cop-out in a list, but part of looking forward to the many things that will color our near-future is not knowing what will come next. Some of my favorite things from 2008 I never saw coming, anticipated, or was given any knowledge to anticipate at all. That includes things such as the release of TV On The Radio’s Dear Science, – which was a surprise simply because it was announced less than two months prior to its release so there was not any forewarning or buildup like with Return to Cookie Mountain – to movies such as The Wackness (a great summer coming-of-age movie that could have easily been a bust) and books I’ll pick up randomly, sunny days outdoors… by definition, anything really. Now how can you go wrong there?

8. New Food For Animals LP

Food For Animals – You Right (live in Baltimore)

You read it here folks, from the mouth of the animals themselves. Food For Animals will be dropping a new album in the next year, and if Belly is any indication, it should be one hell of a package. No info or sounds on what the trio of hip-hop noiseniks are cooking up, but in the last year since Belly was released they’ve certainly mastered their live set, and if the mixes posted on their blog offer any indication, they’ve got some great stuff coming around the corner.

7. Say Anything – Say Anything

Say Anything – Woe (live, acoustic)

I’ve been a Say Anything believer since stumbling upon …is a Real Boy in 2004. I’d found so few records that made such honest, emotionally compelling, and furiously anthemic when I picked up the album, and it remains a favorite of mine. The reason this isn’t ranked higher is because the long-awaited follow-up, In Defense of the Genre, was a bit of a disappointment (but really, it must’ve been rough following up that brilliant first record). Still, there were bright spots in that massive double album, and Max Bemis no doubt has set his goals high for a record he has said will discuss the nuances of every day life. Let’s see how people will respond to emo that strives to be simply normal.

6. Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back by Christopher R. Weingarten for 33 1/3

Public Enemy – Bring The Noise (live, Pitchfork Music Festival)

Here’s the math equation: Take one of hip-hop’s best albums done by one of the genre’s best bands, add in the former drummer for one of the best experimental rock outfits today, and multiply it by a publishing company that lets music obsessives run wild. What do you get? It looks like what may be one of the best books in the 33 1/3 book series. According to a certain schedule, Continuum should be releasing the book on It Takes A Nation of Millions… at some point this year, a read which should be wonderful in and of itself. Add in the fact that its written by Christopher R. Weingarten, the former kit-smasher for Parts & Labor who left the band to pursue a career in journalism and to write the Public Enemy book, and you’ve got an equation for what should be a success for Continuum and readers alike.

5. Jimmy Eat World Clarity Tour

Jimmy Eat World – Lucky Denver Mint

This is an emo/Jimmy Eat World/music fan’s wet dream. Celebrating the 10th year anniversary of the little-album-that-record-executives-thought-it-couldn’t-but-did, Jimmy Eat World will triumphantly play Clarity in its entirety for an American tour starting in February. Whether or not the performance will live up to some people’s expectations is one thing; the fact that Jimmy Eat World are touring this record is an entirely different aspect which meets any and all expectations. This is the album that by all intents and purposes was something of a failure; if Jimmy Eat World were to tour one record, it would probably be their critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful self-titled album. However, Clarity remains a fan favorite, and after the many years and stories surrounding the band and that album, J.E.W. are showing what really matters to them: the fans. It should be a fantastic set, simply by the band showing up.

4. The Road Movie

Still from The Road

Still from The Road

I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road this past summer, a little while after it won piles of awards and recognition and a little while before the movie’s release. Turns out it was a little more than a little while before the film came out, as it was unfortunately delayed from its 2008 release. The book sent me into something of a shock after a quick gust through it in a matter of days. The transfer from the page to the screen is usually very tenuous, but McCarthy’s words have a very visual style that will no doubt aid the story’s sense of reality in a post-apocalyptic world. And noting the folks in front of and behind the camera for the movie, this may be on of the best to come out of 2009.

3. Dan Deacon – Bromst

Dan Deacon – Crystal Cat

Dan Deacon may have unintentionally thrust himself into the limelight with 2007’s Spiderman of the Rings, but the man wasn’t unconscious of the world around him as it happened. Deacon has made a concerted effort to experiment in all forms of his life as long as he has everyone’s undivided attention and support (and he probably would if they didn’t). That means crazy local festivals, crazy town-sized tours, crazy kiddie-electronic-cum-rave songs that stick in your brain like putty. And with Bromst, an album that was meant to be released this year but has since been delayed until March, Deacon doesn’t seem to quit. No matter how the record will be received, it will physically (or at least sonically) be received, a testament to his enduring ability to test his own musical will and conceptual might. It should be quite a listen.

2. Watchmen Movie

Watchmen Trailer 2

Why question this? Again, like most of the things on this list, simply existing will make Watchmen memorable. As a movie, who knows whether the thumb of the public will go up or down (or better yet, that of the comic’s cult fan base). But, barring the recent legal activity surrounding the film and its impending release, as long as the movie hits theaters it will be a success. Not only commercially, but for the comic book movie genre and for struggling screenplays everywhere (this film has been in talks for since the original graphic novel first hit stands). And it looks so damn pretty.

1. Inauguration

Barack Obama’s Acceptance Speech

No matter what your political beliefs are, this will be a massive event. “Historic” to a pin. I’ll be there, amongst however many millions of people that are expected to show up and see Barack Obama sworn in as the President of the United States. Just typing that is getting me excited for the new year.

Happy New Year!

Want To Write A Book About Your Favorite Band?

Continuum’s 33 1/3 series is by far the best collection of books on rock records… In fact, it’s pretty much the only one that continually publishes works on a strong range of albums. They’ve gotten a strong showing on numerous “best of” listings for 2008 for a number of books on records such as Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality (written by the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle) and Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love (by Carl Wilson).

And now you can write one too. Continuum’s call for open proposals for the 33 1/3 series has been out for a couple of months, and the deadline is fast approaching. But, there is still time to submit a proposal – you have until midnight on New Years Eve.

What are they looking for? Here’s a quick peek:

“Regarding your choice of album: this is entirely up to you. I don’t, sadly, have the time to answer emails asking “would album X stand a better chance than album Y?” – so use your best judgment here. My advice would be this: we are looking to sell some books. That’s the bottom line. If you are absolutely convinced that we could sell 4,000 or 5,000 copies of a book about your chosen album, then go for it.”

For more information, check out the blog and specific submission entry.
The question for this blog is will an emo album be picked out of the lucky handful that are selected? True, Weezer’s Pinkerton is on the table for future publication, but the merits of that being a true emo album/band versus the impact of that band/album on 3rd wave emo acts is debatable and could formulate an entire book. So, that aside, will an undeniable emo album be selected for future publication?

Judging from the comments on the blog, the possibilities are there. One commenter has been a vehement supporter of writing about emo albums:

“Blogger transylvanian said…

Here’s a question. Who would buy a book about a modern post-hardcore/emo band like Brand New (any of their records), Say Anything (…is a Real Boy), or Thrice (Vheissu, The Illusion of Safety)?

I have serious plans to write either a Brand New or Say Anything book. I believe these boos would be awesome, but I also believe they’d sell a lot of copies.”

I’d love to see the total listing of submissions, which will no doubt be posted on the blog. Fingers crossed for everyone who has submitted a proposal!

Not Another Post About Movies

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

Yep.

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

David Zucker

David Zucker

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

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

Touche.

Say Anything – Shiksa (Girlfriend) (live):

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Mix-Up

A still from Nick and Norahs Infinite Playlist

A still from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

About a week ago I came across the trailer for the new Michael Cera-propelled film, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The movie is aimed at all things indie in both film and music and although the plot seems thin, the brief clips from Nick and Norah have a down-to-earth sense of adventure to them that made movies like Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle so fresh and endearing. Something apart from the plot-points, character, and humor stood out in the trailer almost immediately. Take a look:

Catch that? Chances are, probably not. Like most perceptions of indie or emo or the mixture thereof, the archetype of the “sensitive guy” as a musician is overly used to describe both brands of genre and culture. True to form, chances are most individuals would have a hard time sorting out emo from indie or emos from hipsters/scenesters. While the lines for what does or does not make certain acts like Death Cab for Cutie or Atmosphere appear to be in the realm of emo, when a music-bred subculture enters the realm of cultural output beyond simply creating music, things get fuzzy. Real fuzzy. Especially with indie music, which in and of itself is more puzzling for folks to define than emo.

And so Nick and Norah provides a template for such confusion. Nick is billed as a “sensitive musician,” which, in terms of underground music, would push him in the direction of the realm of emo. But his attire (skinny jeans, band shirt, hoodie and a sports jacket) and the film’s soundtrack of choice suggests more in the direction of general indie music and Nick as the prototypical awkward hipster. Or scenester. Both are associated with the indie scene and are terms attributed to those great subcultures of America’s past. Scenesters and hipsters both use a form of bricolage to recombine music, clothing, and art into whatever the new subcultural creative tract currently is. In my mind, there is a slight difference between the two. A scenester is someone who generally chases after in-vogue underground movements, taking what they will and leaving the rest to the slaughter – basically, the malicious and elitist individuals involved in the underground culture. A hipster is someone who is generally in tune with the ideologies of a particular subcultural movement and a thriving part of that – someone who understands the positive movement of creativity and values that over fashion. It was the scenester more than the hipster who Max Bemis railed against in Say Anything’s “Admit It!!!,” a six-minute rant of a song calling out all the false pretenses of elitism prevalent in underground culture.

There’s a reason that Bemis would become so upset by the presence of scensters and why people often confuse emo with indie and vice versa. As indie is an all-encompassing term for independent music (however you may define it), emo is one of many genres that fits into that general sphere. After all, emo was a vibrant underground subculture a good decade and a half before it hit the top of the Billboard charts. And it’s been in the past few years, when both emo and indie have been vibrant presences beyond underground music, that some general sharing of cultural production would flow between the two shared-genres. And in that, the “sensitive musician” who was very much a vibrant part of indie music for some time (most notably in the guise of The Smiths, an act most people often confusingly attribute to being emo but who have nothing to do with the genre/subculture itself in their lifetime), became a defining part of emo. And the punk-panache of emo was welcomed into the fold of definition for various artists in the indie marketplace. And so the confusion tends to grow.

Weak Warp

Warped 08

Warped '08

Warped Tour begins in Mansfield, Massachusetts in a number of hours, and sadly, I will not be in attendance. Warped really is a one-of-a-kind entity, and while the Lollapalooza’s that came before it may have dropped their aims to bring alternative music to the masses across the vastness of America (most recently, Ozzfest suffered the same fate, with a single show in Dallas, Texas rather than a full-out tour). Being able to experience the tour-on-wheels is certainly remarkable; a full-blown, 8 staged (and a handful of music-tents) carnival that appears out of nowhere and is taken down by dusk. There isn’t a second that some form of musical expression isn’t being tossed into the air from corners of whatever open-space the tour rolls through, a rumbling monstrosity of noise that lasts twelve hours and leaves you dirty, exhausted, and sunburned.

And yet, I’m not sad necessarily because I’m missing the tour, but the idea of the tour. Warped Tour was created to bring music of all shapes and sizes to the masses at a cheap price. Certainly, half of that is true; tickets for Warped are exceedingly inexpensive ($25 – $35, give or take), especially considering the mounds of bands that pile in for the summer-long haul. Yet, what may be cheap in price has ultimately become cheap in experience. Among the most vivid memories of my last experience at Warped Tour (aside from the veritable dust storms that arose across Fitchburg due to the mosh pits) was the in-your-face consumerism. I can’t say I’ve never yearned for free shit (at one point in my life, I went after free crap at events with a certain vigor), but to see mounds of kids scramble for a free t-shirt from the Truth while not being completely knowledgeable of what those pieces of merchandise represent left me feeling sick.

Warped Tour merch stands

Warped Tour merch stands

What’s more, merchandise seems to have a bigger role in Warped than the live experience of music itself. Every band rolls in with a merch tent crammed with t-shirts, CDs, hats, and whatever you can slap a band-name on. It’s understandable that a band wants to get their name out there, but when consumerism overtakes the music it’s meant to represent, something is amiss. The idea of punk is to be able to express yourself musically in a voice that’s separate from the mainstream. So what does that say when the majority of space taken up during Warped Tour is simply urging people to spend money than do something individually? As Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message.”

The fact that an alternative/punk tour has become such an arm of industry is aggravating in its own right. But, the idea that Warped Tour has failed its original intents to bridge the gap of “punk” within the mainstream is even worse. There is a reason that emo, punk, and pop punk are seen with such severe and negative stereotypes, and unfortunately Warped Tour hasn’t put forth any acts to incur otherwise. This year is no different. Aside from a handful of punk/emo bands (Say Anything, The Bronx, Against Me! chief among them), this year’s Warped is certainly lacking a diverse lineup that it used to parade across the country.

Against Me!

Against Me!

Where are the ground-breaking artists meant to bring a sense of something entirely different than the “norm” punk acts (why is there even such a thing as the “norm” for punk)? Sure, the inclusion of Dillinger Escape Plan and Matisyahu (as well as classics such as The Germs and Fear) offer up a slice of diverse noise, but those acts are only on the tour for a week or two. What ever happened to folks like Andrew WK, Beck, Billy Idol, Black Eye Peas, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, D12, Deftones, Eminem, Fu Manchu, Godsmack, Gogol Bordello, Hank Williams III, Hatebreed, Hed PE, Helmet, Ice-T, Immortal Technique, Incubus, Joan Jett, Jurassic Five, Kid Rock, Kottonmouth Kings, L7, Limp Bizkit, Long Beach Dub Allstars, Misfits, NERD, No Doubt, Ozma, Ozomatli, Pietasters, Quarashi, Reverend Horton Heat, Rollins Band, Snot, Staind, Streeghtlight Manifesto, Sublime, Sugar Ray, Talib Kweli, Valient Thorr, and Weezer? Whether or not you like or disdain the previous bands, or any group on this year’s Warped Tour, you have to admit that this year’s Warped is missing the diverse showcase of sounds it used to contain.

In the pits at Warped Tour

In the pits at Warped Tour

If Warped Tour is ground zero for punk on the mainstream level, then what kind of images are being portrayed about emo and other forms of punk? When all the sounds are similar, the images stereotypic, where does that leave the definition? Punk, as it is viewed by the majority of society, is fast becoming a Levittown (if it isn’t already). Although creating a vast blueprint may be ideal for living spaces, it doesn’t and shouldn’t suit music. Music is meant to project individual creations to the world, not blur the lines of people into one big ball that can easily be circumscribed as the ideal for everyone. The minute any genre can be made fun of simply through compressing dozens of its acts into a small box, something is certainly wrong. Hopefully, this is just a short bumble and not a terrible fall for Warped and the idea of punk on a widespread level.

Dillinger Escape Plan – Milk Lizard (live at Warped Tour):

Say Anything About Science Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

Still from the \

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

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

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

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

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