Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Back from whenst I came from which in this case is Vacation Land. But enough about me: a quick post to let you all know where it will assuredly be going down on New Year's Eve. As my alter ego, DJ Krowd Pleezr, I will be throwing down your favorite hits at the BangItOut ChaNuYearKah celebration from 10PM to 3AM.

Click HERE for details. Not to be missed.

Post a comment for a specific song requests. I'm generous like that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


The Great Destroyer

When you discover that The Great Destroyer was recorded while lead singer/songwriter Alan Sparhawk was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, their seventh record takes on an extra weighted potency. During the tour behind their latest release, Sparhawk found himself unable to continue with Low and even issued a public statement published on their website explaining his status:

"I have not been very mentally stable for the last while. Due to this, touring at this time has become too much of a burden on everyone involved. My current problems and instability create undue and unnecessary stress for everyone close to me, especially on the road...[these] months have been some of the hardest to live through."

Destroyer is drenched with those heartbreaking sentiments and for them, an unprecedented aggression. Low is a band that, up to this point, had been known as a quiet, unimposing trio lulling their listeners into a gentle sway. And while The Great Destroyer is not a rollicking rock record per se, it is a vibrant one rife with distorted echoes and sharp anger. "Monkey," the opening song, repeats the beautiful harmonic threat/mantra "tonight the monkey dies" over and over, while "Everybody's Song" promises to break everybody's heart (and does). Later on, Low records possibly the most poignant two minutes and twenty-eight seconds ever caught on tape (the equally haunting video can be seen here). "Death Of A Salesman" tells the story of a man who eventually gives up his dream of being a musician and thereafter burns his guitar out of bitterness and disappointment. After hearing The Great Destroyer, we can only hope this isn't Sparhawk's subtle way of threatening us with permanent silence.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


2005's Warped Tour Alumni
Fall Out Boy
From Under The Cork Tree/
Motion City Soundtrack
Commit This To Memory/
Youth Group
Skeleton Jar

Right now, there's a substantial and heated argument transpiring on blogs and music threads throughout the Internet about the inclusion of six controversial hip-hop albums on Pitchfork Media's list of Top 50 Albums of 2005.

Could anything sound more uninteresting?

Well, no. White indie rock kids arguing over the merits of Cam'ron's latest record Purple Haze would be like taking steakhouse recommendations from a lifelong vegetarian. But everyone has an opinion and none holds as much Internet validity as Pitchfork's. Undermining said validity would seem futile and silly as they've proven themselves in the past as tastemakers (see; Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (who’s extreme success still baffles me), etc.). Admirably, Pitchfork could restrict itself to covering only indie rock but attempts to focus on all genres (I use the word "attempt" because their hip-hop coverage, for example, feels peripheral and superficial). Nevertheless, that's their claim and I applaud them for the efforts.

But on behalf of the two million American teens that bought Fall Out Boy's From Under The Cork Tree I ask why all genres are valid and noteworthy with the exception of emo?

A couple weeks back, I was speaking to Brian a good friend of mine who is also a writer for Pitchfork and I asked him thoughts about pitching an emo column for the website, like a monthly round-up of releases (like they currently do for house music, techno, etc.). Would editor-in-chief Ryan Schreiber be responsive to it? Brian said, absolutely not. Ryan hates the stuff.

It's unfortunate that one person could shift the editorial content of an influential outlet based simply on his preferential tastes and personal dislikes (how emo of him) especially in a year when emo produced three very strong releases by, coincidentally, all alumni of 2005's Vans' Warped Tour.

The first record and most popular is the aforementioned by Fall Out Boy. On the strength of both their two addictive singles "Sugar, We're Goin' Down" and "Dance, Dance" and the promotional push on MySpace.com, their second release was far from being a sophomore slump. In fact, no one could anticipate just how successful this record would become launching the once-obscure pop-rock band from Wilmette, Illinois into mainstream contenders. But ironic song titles aside ("I've Got A Dark Alley And A Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)," "I Slept With Someone In Fall Out Boy And All I Got Was This Stupid Song Written About Me"), From Under The Cork Tree is a simple, formulaic emo album with passionate and tuneful vocals, equally passionate and tuneful guitars and lyrics that are just as expressive and confessional as the lyrics you would find in an indie rock recording ("Why don't you show me the little bit of spine/
You've been saving for his mattress, love?"). I would suggest that some of them are even wittier. Their sound is no revelation but by placing "boy" in their band name, they've beat you to the critical punch.

Motion City Soundtrack (whatever happened to simple one-word band names?), the five-piece rock band from Minneapolis illustrates the more power pop side of emo. Their second record Commit This To Memory feels more playful and confident than an emo band should sound. Incorporating the sheer hookiness of Weezer with the condensed manic energy of blink 182 (Mark Hoppus produced the album), MCS come closer to replicating the power-popping of the Posies and the Smoking Popes. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to their label Epitaph, noted for its punk and emo releases, would probably deter potential fans from committing to Memory but after one listen to the single "Everything Is Alright," your hesitation would quickly dissipate.

The final consideration is Youth Group's Skeleton Jar, which, in risk of being self-referential, I've already written about:
The Australian sensation Youth Group are virtual nobodies here and criminally, that hasn't changed despite an opening slot on Death Cab For Cutie's last tour. And what's even more disappointing is when considering that their sound, which is not completely unlike their past touring mates, is totally accessible. They are the sentimental hope to Death Cab's full-of-despair hopelessness. This optimistic and anthemic debut album shimmers with an unequaled production value, successfully replicating the moods of Leonard Cohen ("Piece of Wood"), Built To Spill ("Drowned), and James ("Baby Body," the best song I've heard about the paralyzing impact of a poor self-image). This debut is, simply put, lovely. Youth Group sounds like a band you could take home to your mother.

Ignoring these three releases based on an unjustifiable whim just seems silly, like ignoring a zeitgeist because it's too earnest (or whiney. Same thing). Hearts will always be worn out on their respective record sleeves and emo will exist whether Pitchfork assists in its continuous rise to a platueed presence or not. So, while the debate on whether white indie kids have a right to critique hip-hop or not continues, ultimately, I wonder if these critics had just been ten years younger (or perhaps more open-minded) would they be listening to Fall Out Boy...or Cam'ron?

Monday, December 12, 2005


Mad Mel Does it make a difference if Mel Gibson's father doesn't believe in the Holocaust?

There's a rumor circulating Hollywood that Mel Gibson's production company Icon Productions (even the name itself reeks of religious fanaticism) is interested in producing a made-for-television series based on Flory A. Van Beek's 1998 memoir "Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death," which recounts her experiences as a young Dutch Jew in Holland during World War II. Van Beek's book movingly recounts the days when she was saved by "righteous Gentiles" from the collective grip of the Nazis. Gibson was reportedly moved by the valiant efforts of the selfless Dutch Christians and wanted to show their generosity to the same audience that appreciates Desperate Housewives.

But should this back-handed acceptance of the Holocaust find favor in the eyes of the Jews offended by Passion of the Christ? I for one couldn't care less about Mel Gibson's career. It's pretty obvious that he doesn't care about the liberal or Jewish opinion either, so that means we're equally disinterested. And moreover, I think it's a common public perception that Mel's not acting as normal as he used to. Gibson's career is obviously different since he made a movie based on the Catholic's most inaccurate interpretation of the New Testament.

But anti-Semities come and go. I understand that. The one thing that's truly been bothering me in particular is how did Mel become a celebrity in the first place?

As it's been reported repeatedly, Gibson's father Hutton is a pretty vocal Holocaust denier and while the man is entitled to his opinion, it should be noted that fathers are generally the most influential persons in the formative years of our development. Freud sometimes suggested that the father is the influence in our personality development. So here's the real question: how did someone like Mel Gibson become a celebrity after being reared in the house of a perpetual curmudgeon and hatemonger? How did he slip through the cracks to become the heartthrob of Christian housewives every where?

Months back, Gibson was asked by journalist Peggy Noonan to go on the record accepting that the Holocaust happened:

Gibson: "I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

To be honest, I would have rathered he denied the Holocaust. It would have felt less condescending and obnoxious. Coupling the horrible murders of six million Jews with the unfortunate Russian deaths from starvation of the last century is inappropriate. Both atrocities deserve their own focus and mixing the two is just a way to belittle the loss of European Jewry by playing the number game. It saddens me tremendously knowing someone like Gibson has infiltrated mainstream America. And truthfully, it was only a matter of time before his public persona matched his private one.

What's even more astonishing though is the rumor of this TV series. After all, a man with Gibson's values and religious reverence publicly disagreeing with his father? One of the ten holiest Commandments is honoring your mother and father. Well, then how can you produce something as inherently contradictory as a mini-series about the Holocaust? Somewhere Hutton is disappointed.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Acid House Kings
Sing Along With Acid House Kings

There must something in Sweden's water. With a population of only nine million, the country has produced an incredibly wide spectrum of sounds ranging from the most frightening death metal (Carnage, Entombed) to the most synthetic pop music ever made (NSYNC songwriter Max Martin hails from there). But of all the noise emanating from the Scandinavian skies, nothing sounds more disarming and innocent than the twee pop of the Acid House Kings.

Bearing an incredibly misleading name, the Acid House Kings have nothing to do with acid house, a genre which is "a variant of house music characterized by the use of simple tone generators with tempo-controlled resonant filters" (Wikipedia) but rather their music is a sarcastic-free collection of precious chamber-folk. Had Sing Along With... been released in 1968, it would have now been cherished and categorized as an underrated classic alongside the likeminded releases by the Left Banke and the Free Design. AHK’s brothers Jonah and Niklas Angergard write complex harmonies yet accessible pop structures coupled with paradoxically bitter lyrics that assist the songs in avoiding an overwhelming sweetness. The album’s best track “Will You Love Me In The Morning” sublimely addresses the subtle irritations sometimes found in a long-term relationship. She thinks it’s just too difficult to work through all the problems. He optimistically pleads, “We can go far. May our love be.” She says back, We’ll see. He persists and begs one last time: “We can go far.” And with an acoustic guitar strumming an inconclusive final note, the song ends with a question mark.

Friday, December 02, 2005


OK Cowboy/
The Understanding

When Stanley Kubrick made 2001; A Space Odyssey a few decades ago, he probably picked the arbitrary year of 2001 because is sounded so futuristic and ominous in comparison to his 1968. After the progress witnessed thus far, Kubrick had great expectations for the remainder of the century. And despite his preposterous vision (in retrospect), you have to admire his boldness. This was what he thought the future would look like and in 1968, he was admired for it. Now nearly forty years later, it's still acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made.

And while the following suggestions may not be the best records ever made, they're still quite strong. My first entry for the top ten albums of the year is actually split between two sublime electronic rekkids that perhaps wrongfully but charmingly predict the sounds of the future. The first, The Understanding by the Dutch electronic duo Royksopp is a sleek vision of a time-yet-to-come, a metrosexual soundtrack dressed in Prada synthesizers and European cut beats. The Understanding is a progressive album despite it's inevitable datedness; while it now sounds like dance music brought back by a time machine, it's still easy to imagine a day when it will sound outdated. Nevertheless, the songs are quite mature for dance music: "Dead to the World" is a spiraling ambient dream, while "Only This Moment" is as sophisticated as cheesy club music gets (no, there is no contradiction there). The strongest track on the album is "What Else Is There?" is a haunting, atmospheric stunner featuring the Bjorkish vocals of The Knife's Karin Deijer (see the ghostly video here) and also contender for one of my favorite singles of the year.

The second half of entry #10 belongs to Vitalic's OK Cowboy, a sleek and playful masterpiece produced solely by French DJ and producer Pascal Arbez. OK Cowboy is the cheeky and sensual show-off to Royksopp's restraint. Essentially, Vitalic's second full-length is French in all the right places. Just about every song winks at you while it simultaneously and flirtatiously demands your presence on the crowded dance floor.

Ultimately, Arbez's vision of the future feels more apocalyptic, both dangerous and demented like a seedy otherworldly nightclub frequented by threatening aliens. The first single "My Friend Dario" is a mutated blend of Berlinesque electro and Scandinavian metal with equal-measured sarcasm weighing heavily on both sides (watch this highly entertaining video here). But lest you think Vitalic is all about the shtick, he includes a song like "The Plan" an ambient Technicolor track that wouldn't sound out of place in a planetarium, or for that matter, on Royksopp's The Understanding.

But whether Royksopp's and Vitalic's respective albums will sound awkward in forty years, just as Kubrick's deadpan vision of 2001 now looks bleakly inaccurate, is beside the point. After all, how could you worry about a potential irrelevance when you sound so damn sexy in the present?