These are the manic ramblings that go through my head at all hours of the day or night.
Ahhhh. The cure for my restlessness: inspiration.
I wrote today, first time in awhile. It wasn’t much, but I haven’t been feeling qualified to do much more than list on eBay, jog, and catch up on episodes of the Simpsons that I missed over the last 10 years (turns out I stopped watching about halfway through Season 11, the last episode I saw being the great “Max Power” ep. Quality).
It calmed me: that perfect, pleasant exhaustion of the nervous, fidgety energy that too many Coke Zeros and nights alone can work up in you. It felt good, like flexing a muscle you forgot you had. I’ve never really struggled with writer’s block in the traditional sense; I’m never short of ideas. Rather, my issue is always motivation. It’s easier to sit around and watch TV, or goof on the internet, to just lie perfectly still under your bed, staring up at the wooden planks above you and try and figure out how long it will take for those planks to finally give out and crush you. It’s harder (and scarier) to just sit at a desk and type out words or fiddle with knobs, or try and get that perfect guitar tone. You trade the possible wrenching existential horror of potentially failing at producing something legitimately good for the assured vague ennui of knowing you didn’t even try.
But ultimately, procrastination is more toxic to your soul than producing something subpar. So many people obsess over creativity, thinking it must be this covert, silent, and ultimately efficiency driven process and that anything less is a waste of time. These people tend to labor under the delusion that they’re going to immerge from their caves/cabins/subterranean bunkers with this fully formed, Brilliant New Idea and people will just coo. It’s like a bloody magic trick, complete with it’s own “Ta-Da!” moment.
I find that style of “creativity” very tiresome. It usually has this heightened sense of gravitas and involves a lot of hype, both for yourself and for your potential audience. It’s like talking about all the bands you could be in, all the scripts you could be writing, all the paintings you could be… painting.
Maybe there are people out there who make it work for them, but it’s not for me. Creativity is a very satisfying process for me as long as it’s simply process driven. Simple, small steps as often as you can manage. Just do it. The second part of that slogan really should be, “It’s not like it has to be good or anything. It just has to be.”
It’s nice to know that, when you set your mind to it, you can still make it happen. It feels good to be able to will my ideas into the world. The muscles fall into their old rhythms; curved, gnarled fingers hunt and peck. Guitars screech and squeal. And I can sleep soundly tonight.
Not too shabby.
The bad beat
Still trying to decide if I should aim for the band name or just use my real name. Always despised “solo” artists who don’t used a musical pseudonyms, but there is a certain simplicity to it. It’s yours forever, no one can ever take it from you.
Will decide soon as recording starts.
Reviewing a new Mountain Goats album has a few givens that must be briefly addressed. These are commonalities between essentially every post Millennial MG records. We must dispense with them so that we can distinguish the unique merits and weaknesses of this record amongst a very consistent and exemplary catalogue.
First: the lyrics are astonishing. So it always was, so it will always be. No one writes lyrics like John Darnielle. His songs have always first and foremost been vehicles for the wildly eclectic and moving stories of one of the most evocative raconteurs in music.
Second: John Darnielle’s voice is a real make or break moment for enjoying any Mountain Goats recording ever. I’d say it’s a voice you either love or you hate, but honestly, nobody really loves his voice. Even the most hardcore of MG fanatics is more likely to say they merely tolerate his shrill bleating. That’s not to say he’s a completely unmelodic or artless vocalist, but it’s a real jagged pill to swallow.
Third: He has essentially two types of songs that he has written and rewritten throughout the entirety of his catalogue. This album is no exception. This both explains and aids his prolificness. These two types of songs are:
a) Uptempo, acoustic guitar driven, major key riffs on 3 chord wonders. These are the bouncy, bittersweet, and generally screamed into the face the first few rows They also make up nearly the totality of the first half of his career and the most fervent fan favorites. Generally all the same song with the capo moved around.
b) Quiet, somber, piano driven, minor key ballads. A more recent addition to his repertoire, these are usually marked by his slow, flat delivery that resonates with a certain hollow sadness. These are often performed without the other members of the Mountain Goats (long time bassist and possible serial killer body double Peter Hughes and so-good-at-everything-it-makes-you-cry drummer Jon Wurster). Despite not being being fan favorites, they are often musically much more challenging and show a fumbling knack for crafting awkward, lovely melodies.
That all said, the album is an fidgety, often difficult, but occasionally satisfying mutation on the recent theme of “John Darnielle has whatever producer happens to be around do whatever he wants to gussy up his songs.” The last half a dozen records have seen Wurster and Hughes become more of an actual band as opposed to superfluous appendages to what has always been Darnielle’s solo project. On this, they are integrated more than ever and for the first time, it feels like they are knit into the innermost fabric of the songs. Obviously, there are the usual barnstromers like “Cry for Judas” and “Harlem Roulette” where it sounds like the trio get to let loose together, but even on songs where Darnielle brings the energy down the production sneaks up to the front, you can hear the band pace in the shadows.
As for the production touches, Darnielle has always struck me as a man so utterly secure in his talents and the consistency of his personal delivery that he is quick to embrace any novel and quirky presentation. From strings to all girl reggae a capella groups, to bleeping casio beats, Darnielle has pretty much thrown everything at the wall just to see what sticks. Sometimes, it creates these beautifully nuanced records like The Sunset Tree or contributes to the menace of songs like “Lovecraft in Brooklyn.” Other times, you get “High Hawk Season.”
Here, the orchestrations and production come in the form of unwieldy trumpets to high-production-synthesizer-circa-1983, all of it a bit shaky, none of it entirely convincing. “Lakeside View Apartment Suites” and “Night Light” ( otherwise restrained broods), have this weird 80s Post-Punk One Hit Wonder vibe. The horns on “Cry For Judas” could be interpreted as a half-hearted riff on new labelmates Neutral Milk Hotel. “In Memory of Satan” provides a slightly more fitting take on Sufjan Stevens, but the whole affair is a bit too unsubtle for my taste. The final“Transcendental Youth” in particular has this nasty smooth jazz feel that, for the first time in of the Mountain Goats catalogue or releases, raises questions about the awkward questions about cultural appropriation by souless white players.
Still, the album isn’t completely devoid of musical evolution. The Tamla Motown of “The Diaz Brothers” is a surprising new addition to the toolbox that seems astonishingly to fit Darnielle’s hyper literate sensibilities. Elsewhere, songs like “Harlem Roulette” prove the boys can still deliver a tight, 3 minute holisticpop gem. Good work done in spite of a bit of overseasoning.
I fucking hate Blondie. More than that, I think they’re a bunch of disco-loving new wave phonies. I can’t deal with the punk cred they end up getting from cultural commentators, which seems to me more a by-product of right place right time of their birth than of actual punk rock ethos.
And I’m not even talking about their sound. I think punk is an ethic not an aesthetic. The bands playing CBGB’s in 1977 were insanely diverse and all punk as fuck. The Ramones were straight up caveman pop, Television was twitchy weirdos, Suicide was death rockabilly, the Talking Heads were art school navel gazing, Devo a performance art band, and the Dictators were basically jock jams. None of them sounded alike, all of them played shows together, all of them were PUNK AS FUCK.
But Blondie bugs me because I feel like they took the formula that X-Ray Spex and the Slits were doing, cleaned it up, added little pinches of disco and (later in their career) rap, and then presented it as though they were a “punk” band. It feels very calculated and very pop oriented which I find crass.
They feel like the first real stab at “New Wave” i.e. sanitized punk rock you can market. And that ain’t cool by me.
So yeah, thumbs down Blondie.
A wooden chest full of ornaments
Little trinkets, broken toys
We took them to the woods
To bury them
I was 11, you were 10
We were so much closer then
Do you remember?
And then, at 16
We were living fast and burning clean
Getting high by convenience stores
Vahalla behind these garage doors
We kept that summer never farther than our pockets
And I wish I could recall
What I said to you when you kissed me that fall
The things that I know now
Could’ve helped me love you then
But I suppose things don’t work quite like you plan
And honey bee
Is stitched together like a garland
It’s a suite
A single note
A drop of rain falls on the pavement
And I crack
Just like dry earth
The virgin birth
We both laughed and called it silly
Were so good me
You kept the beat
My head was aching now you left me
And I know
Just where to go
I’ve come back home
To find a house so cold it’s shaking
And the stairs
They grown and creek
Under your feet
You see ghosts in all the windows
The things I’ve done
They go unsaid
This cold, cold bed
I was broke, but you remade me
I was broke, but you remade me
I was broke, but you remade me
Just did the best job parallel parking of my life. I attribute it to the fact I was listening to Brian Eno’s “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” at the time.
So I took a listen to the most recent podcast if Sound Opinions, a usually pretty quality music crit podcast, and who should I hear but the omnipresent Best Coast.
Now, I think in the past I’ve probably been a bit hard on BC as being part of this immense wave of 60s influenced fuzz pop that I find a bit disingenuous. Furthermore, their record just doesn’t do it for me. It feels too restrained, too calculated.
But you know what? I really enjoyed their performances on SO. The songwriting is good, the arrangements tight, and Bethany Cosentino’s voice is really charming. Once you strip away the layers and layers of bullshit fuzz and lo-fi affection, you get this nice pop band. I think they are 1000 times better when they aren’t hiding behind ambient noise and this stupid lo-fi aesthetic that is the current fetish.