Tag Archives: Tim Duncan

Cloud Nothings “Attack On Memory”

Cloud Nothings

“Attack On Memory”

[Carpark; 2012]

Rating: 8

Steve Albini is the Greg Popovich of music (or vice versa).  This comparison goes beyond the obvious fact that they are both curmudgeons whose impenitent honesty has been known to ruffle feathers over the years.  While both have been hugely successful, they both enjoy downplaying their impact.   Albini has been known to insult the bands involved with some of his best work as a producer. He said the only reason he worked with Nirvana on “In Utero” was for the money, and he once called his work on “Surfer Rosa” with The Pixies “a patchwork pinch loaf from a band who at their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rock”).  Popovich isn’t one to mince words either, victimizing the people who have helped seal his place in basketball history: the media, the league, and his players (he’s quoted as once saying of his best player “Tim Duncan doesn’t have to say much. I haven’t liked him for a long time”).

But what truly ties these men together is not their venomous assault on anything and everything – it’s their ability to take the one-dimensional and make it multi-faceted.  Popovich has been successful at this for years, making defensive players offensive threats (Bruce Bowen), picking players late in the draft that others have ignored and helping them become all-stars (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker), or culling players from the depths of the D-League/CBA and making them productive cogs within his basketball machine (Jaren Jackson, Gary Neal).  Albini has  worked much in the same manner, helping bands refine their sound and then blow it up with distortion.  Despite both entering the second half of their life, they continue dominating their field. Popovich’s Spurs are currently 3rd in the Western Conference with an aging Tim Duncan and a sidelined Manu Ginobili, and Steve Albini’s fingerprints are deeply pressed into every nook and cranny on his latest work with Cloud Nothings.

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Album Review, Best New Albums

Menomena “Mines”

Menomena

“Mines”

[Barsuk; 2010]

Rating: 7.5

Last week sports writers began releasing their mid-season picks for front-runners in the NBA’s yearly awards races. The hot names of the season were featured on everyone’s lists (Blake Griffen, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Tom Thibodeau).  What you won’t find on these glorified popularity contests is one mention of the San Antonio Spurs. Despite having the best record in the NBA, you won’t see any Manu Ginobili’s for MVP, no Gregg Popovich for Coach of the Year, no Richard Jefferson for Most Improved Player.  Yes, once again the Spurs are the elephant in the room that somehow continues to get no respect. I guess that’s what you get for being perpetually good.

The same can be said for Portland-based band Menomena.  Menomena came out with “Mines” in 2010, and despite critical praise, I have yet to find it on any year end lists. Then again, I can’t point fingers.  I got “Mines” back in August and listened to it one time. Once. And the one time I gave it a chance it was at 6:30 in the morning during my morning commute (that’s code for “zombie drive mode”). As a result, my response was “Eh”. Not hate, not love, just “eh”.

Then a couple of weeks ago I ran across a news story saying that mulit-instrumentalist Brent Knopf was leaving Menomena.  It didn’t strike me as shocking because of Brent Knopf – I don’t know who he is nor do I know how much influence he had on the band’s music – but the sight of the band’s name made me realize, “Holy crap. Menomena came out with an album last year.”  I’d completely forgotten about “Mines” after my driving-dead listening session.

Last weekend I gave “Mines” my second listen, and midway through the first track “Queen Black Acid” I wanted to pound a pick ax through my skull.  How had I let this golden nugget slip down the shaft? Maybe it was the year of incredible music that overshadowed the subtler sounds of Menomena? (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.) “Mines” isn’t going to beg you to explore and enjoy it’s confines like their last effort “Friend and Foe” did, pulling you by the shirt tails on a rumpus amusement ride. This time around, you have to commit to entering it’s dark corridors with an open-mind and a focused ear.

And once I gave it the attention it deserved, a new world opened up to me as “I walked right in through the rabbit’s door and walked right into the rabbit’s hole” (“Queen Black Acid”).  In their past work the band has succeeded at presenting multi-faceted songs filled with surprising twists and turns.  The twists are still here, but you’ll miss your turn if you’re not paying attention, whether it is the spooky owl hiding behind the stalactites of “Dirty Cartoons” or the endless echoing reverb of “INTIL”. It’s no longer about finding the next way to embellish a song; the band’s focus is now simply on the song (the rest is only there to fill in the shadows).

How did “Dirty Cartoons” not make my Best Tracks of 2010 list? I’m ashamed:

It’s not just the music that requires you to focus. Menomena’s lyrics on “Mine” are filled with strange imagery and emotional confessions that most would hide away in their inner catacombs until death. Take “Tithe” for example, a song that at one moment is both hilarious and unique with Justin Harris singing “spending the best years of a childhood horizontal on the floor like a bobsled minus the teamwork and the televised support” and then moments later as you think it’s all fun and games he shifts gears, ominously repeating “and nothing sounds appealing”. But Harris is at his most heartfelt and candid on “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy” where he battles with old age and a cold heart:

“I’m not so brave
and I fear, oh I fear, I’m showing my age
All my life I’ve run away
from those who’ve begged me to stay
All your love is not enough
to fill my half empty cup”


I now realize I shouldn’t be upset with the talking heads of the basketball world.  Just like me with my first listen to “Mines”, they see highlights of the Spurs and think “Eh”, but if they’d give them the attention they deserve, they’d see the genius that is Gregg Popovich, the creativity that is Manu Ginobili, and the rock solid asfsf that is Tim Duncan. Once I listened to this album the way it was meant to be heard, I realized that Menomena has created a solitary confine for listeners to hide within for 50 minutes. Let’s just hope that all Brent Knopf is taking with him is his multi-instrumental playing of the cowbell and the kazoo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Album Review

The Thermals “Personal Life”


The Thermals
“Personal Life”
[Kill Rock Stars; 2010]

Rating: 6

“Now We Can See”: damn is that a great album. This 2009 release from The Thermals is filled with enticing melodies of rebirth, alcoholism, and letting go all conveyed through the lens of Darwin’s evolution. I ranked it #6 on my “Best Albums of 2009” list, and its staying power is made evident each time I find myself returning to it amidst the downpour of amazing albums in 2010 (more on that in December…). Unfortunately, “Now We Can See” never got the credit it deserved from most major music journalists. Instead of deeming it a miracle that the band could follow up their modern classic “The Body, The Blood, The Machine” with another blistering set of songs, most reviews responded to “Now We Can See” with a yawning “Oh, these guys are still good…”.
Which leaves me wondering if a band is at a fault when they release great album after great album. It’s what I’d like to refer as Tim Duncan Syndrome – after winning back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards in 2002 and 2003, Duncan never received the award again. A look at his career stats shows that there was never a fall off in his nightly performances through most of the decade, a sustenance that led Charles Barkley to nickname him “Groundhog Day”. Despite this perpetual dominance in the paint that drove the Spurs to four NBA titles, it seems journalists became bored with his unyielding talent and decided to award the player of the moment each year (how many titles did Steve Nash win again?).
Perhaps if Duncan had a Jordan-like year off to pursue a career in professional swimming his continual dominance would have been better appreciated. And maybe that’s what The Thermals are doing with their latest album “Personal Life”. I’m not saying that the 2010 release from The Thermals is a cataclysmic failure like Jordan’s baseball career. In fact, there are some fantastic songs on the album that flow within the vein of what has become the band’s signature sound. “Personal Life” just lacks the significance that their past few albums have had – it lacks the weight. I’d like to believe they are taking a break from writing songs with depth in order to be better appreciated a year from now. I hope this is the case.
It’s album of love songs. That’s it. No allegories. No references to the bible. Just love songs. So yes, I guess the album has that signature Thermals album “theme” to it, but I’m pretty sure “love albums” have been recorded a million times over (if only they’d utilized a metaphor like the Roman Empire or the Civil War to express the struggles of love). But to just write a collection of love songs without any deeper meaning? I guess I’ve just come to expect more from the Portland band that is usually writing intelligent pop-punk songs. Never have they sounded so literal.

The album’s weakness goes beyond my textual analysis; the songs just aren’t as good as what I’ve come to expect, and I think I know why. The power chord has left the building; the distortion pedal has been put in the pantry. “Personal Life” consists mostly of bass driven songs with Hutch Harris meandering across the fret board trying to keep occupied without accomplishing much. Only on “I Don’t Believe You” do we hear that signature crunch, which also happens to be the best song on the album. It’s classic Thermals, plain and simple.

The video also features Carrie Brownstein of Sleater Kinney and Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock:


The album starts off strong, but quickly dwindles into songs that lack the excitement of what we’ve come to expect from these three. Again, I must stress that the songs aren’t horrible; you can still hear the band’s knack for melody throughout. It’s just missing something.
The most disappointing moment has to be “Your Love is So Strong”, starting off with a promising “Oh-wo-ee-oh-oh-oh-oh!” intro reminiscent of their 2009 hit “Now We Can See”. But this is no “Now We Can See”. Instead, it builds up to stagnation. Unlike it’s 2009 sister, this song never explodes into the passion felt within their music in the past.

You can have this:

Or this:

Maybe it’s the angst that’s missing. “The Body, The Blood, The Machine” had an anger towards God and the government, “Now We Can See” held a disdain for the past and mistakes, but “Personal Life” has only love. “You Changed My Life”, “Not Like Any Other Feeling”, “Only For You”: these aren’t the types of song titles that lead to fist pump or jumping humping. These are songs for spooning in a Snuggie. No thank you. I’ll take my rage elsewhere. Let’s just hope that The Thermals read some Vygostky sometime in the near future; that psycho-babble will frustrate anyone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Album Review