Monthly Archives: July 2010

Rivers Cuomo.

Rivers Cuomo is a zombie. It’s the only explanation available for what has happened to the Weezer front-man over the past 10 years. Back in 1994 Weezer’s “Blue Album” resonated with teenage boys everywhere with its candid, nerdy lyrics about insecurity, Dungeons & Dragons, and homies dissin’ your girl.  After the “Blue Album” it seemed that Weezer could do no wrong with hit songs like “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Buddy Holly”.

Unfortunately, their follow-up album “Pinkerton” got panned by critics because it was labelled as “juvenile” and“abrasive.” By year’s end it ranked #2 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Worst Albums of the Year” list. As we all know now (and many of us knew back then) “Pinkerton” is in fact a masterpiece and has gained a cult following since.  The adoration for this “M. Butterfly” inspired album of self-deprecation and failed relationships has grown so much that Rolling Stone placed it on both the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list and  the “Top 100 Albums of the 90s” list (revisionist history anyone?).

But after “Pinkerton” something happened. Something I can’t explain.  Maybe it all started when the Scottie Pippen of the band, Matt Sharp, left to front The Rentals.  Maybe it was karma getting Rivers back for calling “Pinkerton” “…a hideous record. It was such a hugely painful mistake…” Whatever it was, the Rivers of the past 10 years is not the Rivers we got to know in the 90s.  While “The Blue Album” and “Pinkerton” were bleeding with emotion and honesty, every album released since has been completely devoid of personality, creativity, or heart.   Since the “Green Album” I haven’t purchased another Weezer album, an alarming statement considering what a huge part “Pinkerton” and the “Blue Album” played in my adolescence.

Yes; Rivers Cuomo is a zombie. The Weezer sound that oozed with emotion and intellect in the 90s is now a lifeless, droning, prisoner of monotony, slowly eating away listeners’ brains, one note at a time. Ever since the disappointment set in with the “Green Album” (which I tried so damn hard to like) I realized Rivers had gone corporate, yet I never imagined he would go to this extreme.  Humans love money, but even a human wouldn’t stoop to the levels that Rivers has dropped to in the past few years (not even Jimmy Buffett). Can you imagine the Rivers of the 90s letting Lil Wayne rap over “El Scorcho”?  Or worse yet, invite Kenny G on stage to play along with “My Name is Jonas”? Only a brainless Rivers Cuomo would take part in such blasphemy.

At the 1:55 mark Kenny G joins the band…no lie! Watch until the end; the final second of the clip will provide you with douche chills to last the year:

I shouldn’t care this much. I’ve tried to keep Weezer off my radar for years now; I’ve tried to hold some semblance of hope that the Rivers I grew to know so intimately as a teenager still lived within the money-grubbing shell of a man we see today.  But this weekend, I couldn’t hide from the monster any longer.  Sitting at my friend’s house grilling brats, the zombie emerged from the radio via the 2010 summer dance hit “Magic”.  It didn’t rush toward my ears and go straight for my brain, rather it caught me unawares, sitting back sipping on a drink, believing the intro to “Magic” was leading into just another harmless OutKast rip-off.

Then, I heard the voice. It resembled Rivers Cuomo, but it was not the Rivers I knew.  All life had been sucked out of it, singing “I’ve got the magic in me” through an auto-tuner, resembling a robotic Lovin’ Spoonful (by the way, I DESPISE the Lovin’ Spoonful).  I turned to my friend Steve and called out over the infection that was slowly overtaking my auditory senses, “Is that Rivers Cuomo!?” He scrunched up his nose and nodded his head, signifying that he was feeling the same pain as me.  I turned to my right to find that my friend David had already succumbed to the zombie, nodding his head mindlessly to the overbearing chorus.

The only thing that could make this song worse is an autoharp (Lovin’ Spoonful reference for all you kids out there):

I stood to approach the radio; it had to be stopped! With each step I could feel the unyielding melody worming its way into my head, deadening my emotions, each auto-tuned lyric infecting my soul. And then, I stopped and stared blankly at the radio. It was too late. Zombie Rivers Cuomo had taken over.

Softly, I mumbled to myself, “I’ve got the magic in me,” and returned to my lawn chair.

"Lying on the floor! Lying on the floor! I've become undead."

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Video Clip of the Week: Mad Season “River of Deceit”

This weekend, while hanging out with some friends up in Minneapolis, we got into a discussion about Alice In Chains.  My friend Steve had the latest album by the band playing, and I voiced my displeasure with the fact that Jerry Cantrell used the Alice In Chains moniker for the new album despite the absence of the deceased Layne Staley.  I don’t mind the new material and understand that Cantrell was the creative force behind most of the band’s classic material, but it just isn’t Alice In Chains without Layne. 

On our drive back home today, “River of Deceit” came on the radio, the classic grunge tune by the Layne Staley/Mike McCready side-project Mad Season.  As we rolled through the fields of Minnesota, I was moved by Staley’s eerie vocals, his voice filled with the passion and pain of a soul singer.  After my weekend-long appreciation of Layne Staley, I decided there was no better choice for the BDWPS video clip of the week:

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Wolf Parade “Expo 86″ / New Pornographers “Together”

When I first heard LeBron James announce his “decision” to “take his talents to South Beach”, I had mixed emotions.  On one hand, I was devastated, not only for the poor fans of Cleveland, but also for the NBA as a whole.  The pillars of what made the league successful (team work, cohesion, and loyalty) all evaporated in the moment LeBron made his heel turn, creating the NBA equivalent of the New York Yankees in the form of the Miami Cheats.  The best name I found for the big three in Miami was a blog that called them The Nazgûl (characters in “Lord of the Rings” that were former kings who lost their humanity due to their search for the all-consuming ring).

Stan Van Gundy would be Samwise.

Despite all the selfishness surrounding the big move, I couldn’t help but smirk a bit at the thought of someone dethroning the misanth-rapist himself, Kobe Bryant.  Plus, as a fan of basketball, I secretly look forward to seeing what a team comprised of three superstars will accomplish (oh, and adding Mike Miller and his Godly 3-point shooting won’t hurt).

The question is, does a super group ever work? In music there have been many super groups over the years with established musicians joining forces, whether it be CSNY, The Traveling Wilburys, or The Highwaymen.  While these groups produced some memorable songs, they all seemed a bit unauthentic, while CSNY were never quite as good without Young carrying the load.   In recent years, bands like Velvet Revolver, Audioslave, and Chickenfoot have brought shame to the notion of the super group.

With two of indie rocks biggest super groups recently releasing albums (Wolf Parade and The New Pornographers) I decided to take a look at their latest offerings to help evaluate how The Nazgûl in Miami may work out.

Wolf Parade
“Expo 86”
[Sub Pop]

Rating: 6

In my humble opinion, Wolf Parade are a super group. Comprised of Sunset Rubdown’s Spencer Krug, Dan Boeckner from the Handsome Furs, and  the former guitarist of Hot Hot Heat Dante DeCaro, this trio along with drummer Arlen Thompson have been creating music together on as a side-project for the past seven years to critical acclaim.  On their past albums, Dan and Spencer are in the forefront with every other song jumping back and forth between their two distinct styles. “Apologies to the Queen Mary” and “At Mount Zoomer” somehow remain focused, despite the band’s multiple personalities.  While Spencer’s artistic fortitude makes you think, Dan’s penchant for melodies will have you up on your feet dancing.  This combination of kinesthetic and intellect resulted in two puzzling albums that remind me of a Coen Brother’s film; with each listen you find something new and thought provoking.

“Expo 86” lacks this variance in sound.  It seems Dan has conceded his musical efforts and let Krug take charge.  Of the eleven songs there is not one that sounds distinctly Boeckner. As a result, the album just kind of sits there.  Krug remains a wonder, but “Expo 86” is basically a Sunset Rubdown album without a heart (plus the whole damn thing is really loud – what happened to your peaks and valleys Mr. Krug?).  After his disappointing Handsome Fur’s album “Face Control”, has Boeckner lost his confidence and let Krug take full control?  Which leads me to the first and second possible outcome of the Evil Empire in South Beach:

1. With all three of these guys accostumed to being the top dog on their former teams, will one or two of them lose confidence when their usually high stats plummet? Will one of the three step back to the extent Boeckner did on the latest Wolf Parade album, resulting in a team that is no longer the big three, or even the big two?

2. Or will the unholy trinity be more like the Wolf Parade of the past, with all the members offering up their strengths and somehow merging them into a balanced, unending attack?

Here’s a little “Cave-O-Sapien” off of “Expo 86″ while you ponder these questions:

New Pornographers
“Together”
[Matador Records]

Rating: 7

I would venture to say The New Pornographers are one of the most successful super groups, second to maybe only CSNY.  Over the years the band has accumulated one great album after another, and shown that the members of the band are at their best when working together – well almost.  Neko Case and A.C. Newman, artists who first found success on their own, have shown from one album to the next they are able to blend their voices and styles into a new sound that trumps their solo work.  Instead of trying to stand out as individuals, the two have shaped a sound that is patently New Pornographers.

Then, of course, there is Dan Bejar.  Being the brains behind Destroyer, Bejar has never fully committed to The New Pornographers.  On each album he offers up a couple songs, but he rarely performs live with the rest of the band and is noticeably absent from any song that isn’t written by him.  A quick Google image search of New Pornographers yields a page of images all devoid of Bejar.  This is all fine and dandy if Bejar would like to be the mysterious contributor, but it is all the more frustrating when you realize that the best songs on each album are invariably written by him.

The band’s 2010 release “Together” is as good as anything they’ve released in the past and is a big step up from their 2007 snore-fest “Challengers”, but the distinct New Pornographer sound is becoming a bit stale.  A comparison of “Together” and the band’s first album “Mass Romantic” shows little evolution over the past 10 years.  I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Mr. Bejar dedicated all of his energy into a New Pornographer’s album, working alongside Newman and Case, bringing his brilliance into the mix and creating an album that is refreshing and original.  The thought of Neko and Newman singing about the “Trembling Peacock” and “admiring the admirals” is the stuff of dreams – the stuff of a dream team.  Which leads me to the final possible outcome of the Miami take-over:

3. Will one of the big three take the role of Bejar, unwilling to fully commit to the team?  Will they try to egotistically get their big numbers, putting themselves ahead the others?  Or will one of them be inspired by their new Cuban neighbors and write an album called “Bay of Pigs” that consists of two ambient-disco songs? Okay, maybe I’m taking my analogies too far.

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Video Clip of the Week: Cleveland Tourism

I used to laugh at this song. Now it just makes me sad.

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Interludes.

When I first heard Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson’s song “Hood Sentence” I was instantly hooked on his raw, aggressive lyrics and producer MadLib’s smooth blend of samples. Being an album man, I decided instead of simply downloading the one song I’d get all  24 tracks of “O.J. Simpson”.  This would be a mistake.

Who needs a “compound sentence” when you have a “Hood Sentence”?:

I didn’t make a mistake because Guilty Simpson is a one-hit-wonder; quite the contrary. Every song on the album echos the same raw flavor that turned me onto “Hood Sentence” in the first place. On “Cali Hills” Guilty Simpson pays homage to his late great friend J Dilla, telling the story of how the legendary producer made GS the MC he is today.  The title track “O.J. Simpson” sounds like a combination of Method Man and Tribe Called Quest, rising and falling amidst a blend of jazz and tension.  And the “New Heights” line “I’m the Adonal Foyle of the rap game” is just one example of Guilty Simpson’s self-deprecating humor.

The only fault with the song “O.J. Simpson” is the minute-long comedy routine outro…we’ll get to that:

No, my complaint with Guilty Simpson is not with the music. My issue lies with the interludes.  12 to be exact.  The album starts off with a three-minute prelude that leads into a minute long introduction track. That’s four minutes without music! The only thing missing is a foreword written by Kato Kaelin. From there the album jumps between interludes to songs, breaking up that all too important flow.  Over 24 of the 56 minute of the album are comprised of interludes. 24 minutes.

I’m not totally anti-interlude. Sometimes the mid-album interruptions can add to the aura, the storyline, or even scaffold major themes within the music. The Wu Tang Clan were the masters of this, creating alter-egos and building a narrative that connects from one album/project to the next.

Notice I said were. This isn’t just a rant on Guilty Simpson; interludes are running rampant in the hip-hop community and even the boys of Wu Tang have fallen prey to the meaningless meanderings. On the latest release from Method Man, Ghostface, & Raekwon, interludes tarnish the already amazing “Wu Massacre”. Whether it be the 30 second “Yo Mom Skit” or the Tracey Morgan rant on paying rent, “Wu Massacre” features strange little tracks that don’t seem to build the mythology of Wu or function in any way, shape, or form. Like mosquitos, they torment a beautiful scene.

A clip for “Pimpin’ Chip” and also a glimpse at the early leader for best album cover of 2010:

Rap is really the only music genre that utilizes the interlude, at least to this magnitude, and I think it’s getting out of hand.  Jay-Z is one of the few rappers out there that strays away from the interlude format, and it may be time for him to step up once again as the Godfather of hip-hop and declare “Death to the Interlude” just like he did last year with the “auto-tuner”.

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Video Clip of the Week: “Pablo Picasso” by The Modern Lovers (1972)

Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole. It’s a fact. Just ask The Modern Lovers.  And in case you didn’t know, this is the best song ever written about a painter (suck it Don McLean).

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