4.30.2011

New Model

Weekend, week end.

I'm good and pissed. Tried going for a short run today after having little success last week. After cleaning my apartment all day, some slow and diligent stretching and walking for a warm up, I tried to get into it. I got about three blocks before I had to limp home. I hate my knee. So in search for something cathartic and contrarian I thought I'd extol the virtues of a furious young man. Sadly that man is young, no longer. 

That man?


Shamefully, I knew little to almost nothing about Elvis Costello until I was almost 18. I know, right? But I take solace in the deep seated appreciation I hold for his music now, which compensates for me only slightly. At some point during my senior year of high school (yeah, I was old for my class - it made me popular for the sole purpose of purchasing contraband, though) I was watching a retrospective on Saturday Night Live's musical acts. One of the highlights playing on the show pertained to the controversies and banning of artists from NBC. While we're all familiar with the Sinead O'Connor incident, a lesser known, earlier example is the run in with Mr. Costello and his Attractions. Having been brought on the show to fill in for the (potentially worse) Sex Pistols, Costello stopped his band in the intro to 'Less Than Zero', saying there was no reason to play it. He then counted his band off and they all launched into the defiant 'Radio, Radio', a screed about the stale nature of commercial radio. To wit, there are lines in the song stating specifically "I wanna bite the hand that feeds me." Furious with Costello for the outburst of spontaneity and brash attitude, he was banned from the network for around 25 years.

Seeing this as a conniving little 18 year old, I was enthralled. 

On a night out with some friends I picked up a couple albums I had been looking for, including an older Alkaline Trio album and Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols.  In the same section of the store I found the album by Costello with that song, This Year's Model. Curious about his attitude yet aware of its age, I said "what the hell" and plunked down too much money for a CD, when I'm sure it would be less than 10 now, or 'free' in college. It was fantastic.
Full of the youthful vigor and undiluted passion of an artist with a clear vision of the world, the album is a personal favorite of mine. Starting in with Costello singing "I don't wanna kiss you, I don't wanna touch, I don't wanna see you cause I don't miss you that much", 'No Action' is a sign of things to come. A propulsive song that moves forward on rolling drums and the vibration of the keys, it shows Costello's emotional momentum as well as the band's. 'Pump It Up' has a similar frantic energy, pounding forward on a relentless rhythm and chunky bass line. The songs themselves display the power of The Attractions, working as a cohesive unit and delivering with intensity and detail. Other tracks maintain that same energy even if the tempo isn't the same - 'Little Triggers' is a slow burning throwback to doo-wop records, while '(I Don't Wanna Go To) Chelsea' has an almost reggae feel, slipping in just behind the beat in a head bobbing groove. 'Running Out Of Angels' sees Costello beating on his acoustic through chagrined false starts. 'Greenshirt' has no false starts but feels just as well crafted as a tight little acoustic number. The highlight for me, though, will always be 'Radio Radio'. I love everything about it - the chord progression, the lyrics, the melody and the attitude. Everything comes together so well and it feels so raw and ahead of its time. Does that make sense? Maybe not.
Whether or not that did make sense, I love this album. It was almost an accident that I came across it the way I did. I'm sure I would have discovered it eventually, but to have just the smallest nudges lead me to it at the point it did makes me appreciate it's forgotten beauty. It's only slightly forgotten for some, but for an entire generation it's completely unheard of. Either way, you should give it a spin - it's a phenomenally energetic, frenetic album showing an artist and band at the tipping point for passion.

4.29.2011

End Of The Rope

Hello there!


Here I sit, exhausted and thoughtless after a week of shining my lights at their brightest. New job, new pressures, new sense of fatigue. Like I wrote yesterday, doing the same sort of thing for more than a year brings about a mental complacency. Doing new things, consistently, breaks that mental rut. It also fatigues the mind. Being on your toes and trying to adapt and be on your best behavior is tiring after an hour, let alone 50. For example, you have no idea how many insignificant yet telling spelling errors I've made in just this paragraph. Thank goodness for the little red line beneath my mistakes. Since I am clearly at the end of my rope I'll just write a bit about someone else's before I flop into bed.


I've certainly written before about my love of the Foo Fighters and the earnest, unpretentious music they make. As a modern band they've done an amazing thing - they've continued to make album after phenomenal album, a continuous streak of amazing rock music. While I certainly dug their last outing, the sprawling and diverse 'Echoes, Silence, Patience + Grace', my better half loved it even more. It was all I could do to pry the actual, physical CD out of her car and sneak it up to my hard drive. As much as I enjoyed it, though, I was kind of hoping they'd get back to form on their next record. To my pleasant surprise it turned out that's what the band had set out to do on their next endeavor. 
While I would love to tell you more about 'Wasting Light' in its entirety, I once again am succumbing to the fact that my better half is so in love with this band that I haven't been able to weasel the CD (again, physical copies!) out of her car. Due to our separate commutes (me bus, she car) I haven't had a chance to really take the whole thing in. Side note - physicality seems to be a theme on this album, as it not only was recorded on tape in Grohl's garage, but her copy of the CD came with an actual section of the master tapes it was recorded on. A nice touch.




The lead single, though? Fantastic.


'Rope' is a slice of pure, guitar driven rocknroll. It's an interesting move on the band's part, as well. The first time I heard the single on the radio I honestly didn't think it was them. From the jangly, spacey chords that open the track, it barely even sounds like the Foo Fighters we all know and love. I had almost tuned the song out, my mind somehow associating it with 80s New Wave like Flock of Seagulls or something. Like, GTA: Vice City popped into my head and I don't quite know why. Anyway, the song builds from there, piece by piece, until the verses are a series of overlapping, rhythmically complicated dynamics. The melody is both infectious and a bit hard to listen to, like a sour candy, if that makes any sense. As the tune builds into the chorus it shifts from the 80s to the 90s, becoming an insanely catchy bit of guitars and wailing the post-grunge rockers do so well. I'm sure you'd recognize it the moment you hear it, Dave Grohl wailing "Gimme some rope, I'm coming loose - I'm hanging on you!"
I'm willing to bet there are some fantastic cuts on this album, if only I could hear them. Someday I'll snatch the album out of my better half's car and secret it away to my headphones to study in earnest. Until then I'll have to to keep myself content with this excellent, hard driving tune. It's good to know that after 15 years a band like this can keep pushing themselves to be creative and energetic. I look forward to hearing more from them.

4.28.2011

All Left Feet

Word.


Whole bunch of 'em. 


So it's been a massively busy week. I got a promotion at work, which is fantastic. However, as with any new position there are fresh new responsibilities. Turns out this new gig has quite a few. Like, pages of stuff. Whole lists of things I'm responsible for. I assume my last position was the same way but after time you don't think of it as a list of things to do, it's just your job. It's still in that new phase for me, where it feels overwhelming but is approaching manageable. I'm excited - it's fantastic and so are my new coworkers. Still, it wears a body out, trying to take everything in. The one small respite in the face of this change? The simple joy of finishing a book while riding the bus home.
After a day spent taking in as much as possible, trying to put my best foot forward for 9 hours, slouching down on the back of the 6 and pulling a book out of my bag to open it near the end is a gratifying feeling. It's a silly, base thing to take such happiness from but it doesn't mean I can't savor it. Having poked away at the book over lunch breaks and bus rides over the last month, I was glad to put it to bed but sad to see it end. Another of the multitude I was given for the holidays, I am only now approaching the end of the line in my small collection of Murakami's canon.
Dance, Dance, Dance is another of the surreal, bizarre pieces of fiction by the Japanese author. Not only is it a wonderfully bemusing novel, it's also a sort of sequel to his last book I read, A Wild Sheep Chase. Having enjoyed that supernatural gumshoe story, I was excited to read this, knowing that it follows some of the same characters after a somewhat abrupt ending. The same nameless protagonist tells us the story, his astoundingly-eared girlfriend factors in, as well as the strange and mysterious Sheep Man. 


Another of Murakami's musings on the nature of loss and forlornness, the book spends a great deal of time introducing and subsequently killing off characters. Those readers paying rapt attention may spot it coming, but I found myself to be pleasantly surprised by some of the twists and turns the narrative took. Once again we have the protagonist joking his way through a seemingly humdrum existence, writing copy for ads, a process of dismisses as "shoveling cultural snow". That description is actually one of the better things to come from the book, a succinct way of summing up many lives. When he feels something beyond this world calling out to him from the Dolphin Hotel, the penultimate setting of the previous book, his life heads straight down a rabbit hole of high-class call girls, inconsolable movie stars and psychic teenagers. Disparate elements that end of tying together quite nicely in the end. I recall getting within 60 pages of the end and thinking "All right, how the hell does this all tie together?" The answer came pretty shortly after. 
Dance, Dance, Dance is not a book with simple, hit-you-over-the-head action and romance. In fact there was quite a bit that befuddled me and took me out of my comfort zone. Yet, I kept on reading it for the simple enjoyment of Murakami's understated voice. The pleasure of slowly meandering through this book helped me offset the stress I was riding into my inaugural period at my job. I would definitely recommend picking up this novel, but do so only after having read A Wild Sheep Chase. Turn the page, kids. See you on the weekend.

4.27.2011

Pakt Tite

Evening, one and all.

After having a good feeling yesterday from writing about how fantastic G-Stone Records' artist repertoire is, I thought I would take a similar route for today's (only tangentially) related post.

You see, sometimes the best way to discover something is to just branch out. It also helps to have nothing to lose, as well. Relevant to both of these conditions is the fact that last summer (or maybe it was two summers ago...can that be right? Have I been running that long?) the kind people at Apple decided to not only offer their typical Single of the Week and Discovery Download, they also had a free sampler available from German electronik label Kompakt. Being a sucker for both music of both the free and electronic types, I immediately downloaded the 2009 Family Label Sampler. I have to admit I had very low expectations for the thing, assuming there would be a lot of heavy-handed four-on-the-floor techno music of the tritest variety, perhaps one or two decent songs in the collection.

To my surprise and delight I was completely wrong.

It turns out that the artists at Kompakt not only make fantastic music but do so with perspective and nuance I had frankly never encountered in electronic music before! Instead of mindless, stupid rave music I found myself zoning out to surreal, quiet little numbers that lasted longer than I could even hope. That's one of the secret bonuses to not working in conventional song structure - you don't have to limit yourself to three and a half minutes. There was a great deal of minimalist, barely expressed tones - from the churning and beeping of 'Kenton' by Mikkel Metal to the ambient atmospherics of 'America' by Dusty Kid. This was music with a refreshingly unique perspective. While I had been growing bored with my usual fare of indie rap and guilty pleasure pop songs, here was a collection of intelligent, subtly expressed electronic/techno music that came completely out of left field. On top of that it was free! What more could a guy ask for? Let me explain a little more accurately by quoting Grooves magazine: 



"Kompakt’s chief aesthetic objective has always been the perfect marriage of ambient texture and linear 4x4 structure—blending deep, granular sound design with the 4-bar rhythmic intensity and patterning that makes house and techno so club-effective"
 Around this same time I had begun running for fitness, after years of poor health and eating habits. While there was no shortage of guitar-and-screaming aggro music to motivate me in the beginning, after a while I had burned out on the same songs. I was enjoying the running very much but wanted to get out of my own head during the process. This collection was the perfect answer to that problem. The steady slap of rubber on pavement paired wonderfully with the soft synths and samples of beats. There was a zen element, an unconscious mantra  of "Don't think, just breathe, one foot in front of the other" that I found myself slipping into. Unfortunately I have a habit of repetition and obsession. This collection was no exception. To be blunt, I was listening to the mix to the point of wearing it out on my ears.

Time passed and summer was coming again (and therein establishes my time frame!). A family member had kindly bestowed the simple joy that is an iTunes gift card to me. While many scoff at the idea of what they perceive to be a throw-away gift or an empty gesture, I am always thrilled to receive one. It means freedom to roll up your sleeves and dig in, really look for something left field. You can buy something on which you normally wouldn't risk the scratch. Recalling the joy of running accompanied by Kompakt, I searched around on the store to see what was available. Sure, I could have picked a specific artist and gone hogwild. Instead I decided to roll the dice again, purchasing one of the label's collections, this one titled Total 10

I once again hit pay dirt.

Twenty tracks this time, all of them solid examples of the artists at their best. The weather was improving, bad bout of Illiotibial Band Syndrome was fading away and I had all the heady, zoning out music I could want. Having a total of 30 tracks from this excellent label has proved to be just the right amount for the time being - I have yet to tire of this combined grouping, still spinning the playlist when heading out for a run. By mixing these two compilations I created a monster of a playlist that serves as a  surreal and dreamlike induction into a different headspace, all courtesy of this amazing German label. Head over to thier site or look them up on itunes, you'll find something you like, I know it.

4.26.2011

One Man Orchestra

Good afternoon, one and all.

Apparently my the weather deities have decided that Minnesota hasn't had nearly enough rain. It should stop sometime by next week, though, which is nice. On the one halfway decent day we had last weekend I tried to sneak in a quick run, the first one I would have taken outside in almost six months. Alas, my knee decided that would not be the case, and about halfway through the ol' Illiotibial Band Syndrome reared its ugly head. Limped home. Lame. Puns! But not all is lost. Days like this, the weather undoubtedly has an affect on mood - if yours happens to line up with the weather in the right fashion, it can be okay, despite the unrelenting dreariness of it all. I know I've written about my love of trip-hop and subdued, down-tempo music before, but it has yet to scare away readers in droves, so what the h, right? Let's roll up our sleeves and dig into a little Peace Orchestra, shall we?

I first heard this musical outfit many years ago on the soundtrack to the sublimely weird short-film compilation about the oft-derided Matrix series, The Animatrix. Among the surreal and disturbing collection of animated shorts is a piece about a high school student who questions the nature of reality, bringing about men in black suits to ask unpleasant questions. An appropriately titled cut from Peace Orchestra's only proper release is used as a part of the score to the short. Titled 'Who Am I', the song adds to the uncertain, threatening nature of the short with its bubbling, beeping tones and flanging guitar samples. The beauty of the animation is also highlighted by the ephemeral nature of the track. Further, there is a looping sample of the song playing over the scene selection of the DVD. When I was kicking around on a Saturday afternoon last summer, too much time on my hands, I realized that I was leaving the disc on the menu just to hear the loop over and over again.

So I looked it up.

Turns out the song was just one track on a mind-blowingly awesome album by Peace Orchestra, a trip-hop outfit that really is only a single person. This person would be Peter Kruder, or half of the Austrian electronic group Kruder & Dorfmeister, best known for their downtempo, dub compositions and remixes. After a bit of hemming and hawing, debating with myself about how many trip-hop albums one man can have need for, I bought it and have never looked back. Seriously - I love this album. I love it so much I actually have to force myself to listen to other things just so I won't burn out on Peace Orchestra. I don't want to learn every single intricacy about it just yet; I want some mysteries to remain.

Mysteries seem to be a theme on the album - it's a threatening, sexy mix of ominous tunes. It's all bassoons and electronic sounds, organic rhythms and looped bass lines. There's a definite air of foggy nights, men in fedoras and rain falling on dimly lit streets. It's a knock out. The kind of thing that when I wake up and see that it's raining again in Minneapolis for what seems like the 13th straight day, I shrug and say "All right, Peace Orchestra it is" and put in my earbuds, slowly zoning out with a book on the bus. If there is any chance that an article about trip-hop on this site gets through I would highly recommend this album. Kruder is a fantastically talented artist who paints masterpieces with his audio equipment. I'm glad I stumble across his work the roundabout way I did, just so I could experience the rich appreciation I derive from listening to it. While I am aware of Reset, the remix/redo version of this album, I'm totally making myself wait until I have completely burned out on this first. I love it that much and I hope you do too. Check out their site and see what I'm talking about. Austrians making trip-hop - who could've guessed?

4.25.2011

Dig Deep

Hey kids! Back into the work week. I know, I think so too. BUT! It'll be Friday again before we know it, right?


In the meantime I want to remind anyone and everyone who reads this about a fantastic song that I absolutely adored when it first came out, then forgot about, then rediscovered, then forgot about again and have only recently discovered it for a third time! Just what is this elusive, mysterious song that is constantly escaping my mental grasp? What could it be about this song that keeps bringing it back, every time it slips out of my mind's eye? What is so special about '6 Underground' by The Sneaker Pimps that is so damned unique and remarkable?


Before I try to get into the minutiae of the song itself, a brief word about The Sneaker Pimps: Sadly, they are no more. Formed in 1994, the group was at the forefront of the trip-hop movement in England. While their debut album Becoming X was a thing of uneven yet inspired beauty, the remixing of the single by Nellee Hooper got it wider notice. Having initially been released in 1996, after the remix it started to appear all over the pop spectrum, from the soundtrack to the awful Val Kilmer vehicle The Saint to modern radio to teen rom-com ensemble flick Can't Hardly Wait, to skater film Dogtown and Z-boys. See how Nellee Hooper keeps popping up? He's like an Other in LOST - always emerging from the background at unexpected times, and when you see his handy work you nod and say "Ohhhh, I get it....right?" Anyway, their next album wasn't as big of a success, despite the excellent single 'Sick', singer Kelli Dayton having left the band by this time. Nothing they've done has paralleled the success of 6 Underground, which is too bad for everyone. It's a phenomenal track.
The song itself is an incredible piece of poppy trip-hop, mellowly rocking along with a steady, relaxed beat. According to those who know better than I, the harp sample that recurs in the song is actually derived from the James Bond classic 'Goldfinger', specifically when Bond's paramour early in the film is murdered and covered in gold paint. A fitting bit of referential art, if I do say so. The track is a mysterious, strange bit of pop heaven, singer Dayton singing the verses softly but with a bit of an edge. The chorus sees the tempo and intensity pick up just a hair, just that slightest bit of vibrancy adding spark that keeps the tune from plodding. I just feel that even though the song is about fifteen years old their's still something fresh and original about it, an example of what quality writing and execution can do with proper production. The tone and mood of the song are sublimely dreamy in a surreal way that makes me think of falling through mist.
I love this song, but it keeps escaping me. When I first heard it almost fifteen years ago my mind could barely grasp it. It was some of my first exposure to my sacred joy of trip-hop. Somehow its ethereal tone allowed it to slip from my memory until it was stumbled upon via file-sharing in college. Deleting playlists sadly culled it from heavy rotation in my life, but digging through tracks got me back into it. I'm glad I found it, it's absolutely fantastic. Take a listen and see if you're as taken with it as I am.

4.24.2011

More Coasting

How did the weekend come to a close so quickly? Was it something I said? Oh well.


Time quickly got away from me this weekend and in my rush of obligations and time spent with family in another state, what would normally be in this space has yet to be written. Long story short - I'm exhausted and have nothing prepared. Sucks to have to cop to being caught with empty pockets, yet at the same time it was unquestionably worth it to spend time with my family and see my godson for once. He's adorable, in case you're wondering. Like, heart-stoppingly cute. But I digress.


In the interest of filling this space with something relevant and appropriate, I'll direct your attention to something I had hoped to touch base on last week. In the process of writing about 30 Seconds to Mars I was scrolling through my iTunes library and one of the things I wasn't able to incorporate into the post was the excellent video for the lead single on the follow up album to A Beautiful Lie, This Is War. The single, Kings & Queens, is an epic, sprawling track that features throngs of the band's fans singing part of the hook. The song is a bit of a growth for the band, showing their development and refinement of their sound as they matured in their songwriting process. This album further developed their articulate nature and 'Kings & Queens'  shows that refinement of style. The anthem-like choruses and crowd-aided wailing add a sense of grandiosity to the tune, while the verses and bridge are exercises in building and fostering energy and momentum. It's powerful, effective writing.
The clip for the song, titled 'The Ride', has members of the band as well as several bike-and-community focused groups staging a massive ride through downtown L.A., inter-cut with the band playing in the setting sun. It's a gorgeous, sweeping bit of film that serves the scope of the tune very well, even if it doesn't fall in sync with their previous videos which focused on storytelling and scene. Whereas other videos had the band shooting in the arctic circle or recreating the work of Stanley Kubric, this one is a bit more accessible. That doesn't diminish the impact, though. The scope of the organization and humanity they present in the film is fantastic and relate-able despite the costumes. Regardless of the shift in direction, do yourself a favor and check out the short film, it's a sight to behold and the song is terrific as well.
Again, my apologies for the truncated post today, but I will be returning with more content tomorrow. In the meantime check out this fantastic video and single by a band I can't say enough good about. They've always got something up their sleeve, so keep an ear to the ground. Hope you had a good weekend.

4.23.2011

Redrum

Oh dear, it's the weekend, isn't it? It is. Crap.

Too busy with a life spent doing errands and errant obligations. Oh well, such is our duty. I tried to sneak in a run today, the first in a while. My knee didn't perform as reliably as the rest of  Having little free time and ever increasing traffic, there needs to be something here. Have I told you about The Alkaline Trio? I haven't? Well, I suppose you're old enough to hear this.

They're insane, both in the positive and negative connotations. Long standing favorites of mine, this Chicago based band has been grinding away for years, establishing a solid and expansive canon of work that defies easy categorization. Early material fell more squarely under the Punk heading, while the relentless march of time has seen them branch out into stranger sounds, their current style almost being that of a hard, modern take on New Wave. No doubt this description will bring disagreement and clucking of tongues from their die-hard fans but hear me out - look at the evolution in their sound. Look at the ever-increasing diversification of instruments on the band's albums - synthesizers keep popping up, as well as more intricately tracked guitar parts and even horns. Look at the fact that the band plays in more measure tempos, not as often falling into wild abandon but working more with focused restraint. Sound like a punk band or a bizarre, hard-edged version of modern-day New Wave? Yeah, I thought so. But while I could make my case all day about this genre shift, I would rather encourage you to listen to the album wherein I first really noticed the change in the band's sound, titled Crimson.
Released in 2005, the album was a more practiced, intentional effort by The Alkaline Trio. Their previous albums had been more of a in-record-out modus operandi, without a great deal of deliberation. Crimson, in comparison, saw the band sitting down and examining their process more, considering different arrangements and guitars and basses for each song. This more measured approach not only allowed for more nuanced production but also brought out a side of the band that had not seen a great deal of expression. Whereas the band had previously put out punky, riff-rocking numbers that often referenced medication and alcohol, Crimson was indeed more focused on dark, blood related imagery. Gone were jokes about getting drunk and being miserable - they were replaced by eerie, unsettling lyrics about serial killers, double suicide and the band claiming themselves to be "the things that go bump in the night that you can't see. Yeah, we're the mishaps that always happen in threes." This shift had started on the previous release, Good Mourning, but didn't hit full tilt till Crimson.
The songs themselves are topnotch. While the energy is still present, the band refined their notoriously aggressive sound into a smoother more evocative attitude and tone. In an excellent twist on convention the album opener 'Time To Waste' is actually begun by a melancholy piano motif. When the Trio burst into the track, it's almost business as usual - the tune is classic Alkaline Trio, albeit with this new sound peeking through. 'Burn' is a sprawling, lurching jam that shows the band breaking their tight sound open a bit, with Dan Andriano's churning bass lines propelling the heavy number into a piano-driven chorus which actually fits Matt Skiba's vocals quite well. When the light chorus reprises as a coda it's put on with the full band behind it and it sounds fantastic. The build to it makes it a standout track. 'Sadie', about Manson Family member Susan Atkins, is another haunting, mid-tempo number that feels like a fresh direction - the overdubbed guitars and wailing at the end of the song feel like new moves. 'Dethbed' is one of the slickest, most New Wave numbers on the album, all droning guitars and thumping kick drums. The band makes what could easily pass as a pop song with 'I Was A Prayer', the lead guitar lick feeling strangely and enjoyably out of place with this band. Another indication of the evolving sound is the creeping, contrapuntal 'Prevent This Tragedy', a song that puts unique parts together in a way that demonstrates they were able to really take their time in the studio to construct these songs, not just bang them out. 
While there have been several albums to come out after Crimson, none of them or any of their earlier work has really grabbed hold of me like Crimson. There's something about their sound and mindset here that just speaks to me in a way their other work hasn't quite. Their energy is still present but they aren't just banging away - I feel like this is when they went from being in a punk band to being professional musicians in the career and mindset of artists who don't worry about day jobs. A weird, crummy thing to say, but I do so in the most positive connotations. I really think this is some of the band's best work and a fantastic place to acquaint yourself with the excellent music produced by The Alkaline Trio. Take a listen.

4.22.2011

Something To Leave Home For

Happy Friday. Made it through after all.

In the interest of continuity today's post is not only about the nature of musical exposure but also about one of my favorite albums when I was younger. Of the myriad ways I've examined exposure, the one I have yet to hit on seems like an obvious choice yet I sadly have not written about it due to my own circumstances. Once upon a time the primary way people were exposed to new music was through live shows. As I've gotten a little older and mellowed a bit, the number of concerts I attend has declined sharply. When I was young and brimming with energy and free time I had absolutely no qualm about heading out on a weeknight and seeing whoever was playing, accompanying friends to shows on little more than some encouraging words and the promise of a comped drink. Now with a legitimate career and more responsibilities than hours in the day I take joy in finding what little time I can to just relax with my better half. Whereas I used to put on grody concert gear and a pack of smokes on the way out the door, I now find myself thinking I'd rather be able to go running in the morning and if I absolutely have to go I'll sport ear plugs. At some point my internal barometer shifted and I can only attend a handful of concerts a year, on the rare occasion I have a free night and a devotion or curiosity that cannot otherwise be sated.

This was not always the case.

When I was still in high school I was trapped in a small town with a dearth of relevant live music. Basically if I wanted to hear music I liked I had to play it in my own band. That embarrassing little endeavor is a post for another day, though. Point is, if I wanted to see a popular band I had to go to great lengths to do so, often literally. Par example - seeing The Smashing Pumpkins on their last tour? Two hours to Minneapolis on a school night, two hours back past two a.m. Green Day at the Xcel center during their Warning Tour as a gift from my older brother? Pretty much had to make a weekend out of it. So when Weezer was touring seemingly inexplicably far in advance of the Green Album, my group of friends all decided we simply must attend. It was so far in advance of the album that we had to do a bit of research to see that "Oh, there's a new album?", having witnessed the career-gap post-Pinkerton. So we all piled into rusty vehicles and caravanned to Milwaukee to see the band we all loved before the resurgent explosion of the second half of their career. To give you an idea of our technological mind-set at the time, while my better half had a phone at this point in her life, no one in my circle of friends did - we (in all honesty) used walkie-talkies to communicate between cars. Kinda badass but also a little sad. Cell phones were available. I don't know what our problem was.

Anyway, hindsight aside, we made the 5+ hour trek to Milwaukee to see our beloved Weezer, rocking out to Pinkerton and reminding ourselves of just what a great band had been tossed aside, there were two others on the bill - Ozma and The Get Up Kids, both bands that complimented Weezer's brainy, emotional alternative sound. While Ozma were certainly engaging, if a bit shoe-gazing openers (again, a post for another day) when the Get Up Kids took the stage in support of their freshly released 'Something To Write Home About', our collective jaws hit the floor. Sure, we had a sense of what the emo scene was like at the time but here was a band playing so full-on and desperately, brutally honest that we were taken aback at their intensity. Launching their set with the anthemic riffage of 'Holiday', The Get Up Kids were an unrelenting force of emotional furor. Playing (what became) crowd favorites 'Red Letter Day' and 'I'm A Loner, Dottie, A Rebel' the band instantly had me hooked to the point of Weezer simply being icing on the cake. I was so sold on The Get Up Kids that anything coming after was almost overkill - I just absolutely clicked with what they were doing. When the show was finally over and we left, exhausted and covered in other people's sweat, we trekked slowly back to our humble small town. I'm sure I wasn't the only one feeling the discombobulating dichotomy of witnessing something amazing yet knowing nothing like it will pass close for a long time, just the briefest glimpse into what the wider world held out of reach. 

In an act of both consolation and desperation to hear those songs again, I rushed out the next day to pick up Something To Write Home About. As luck would have it, it turns out The Get Up Kids were the rare band that sounded just as good on record as they were live. I can't be the only one who has seen a decent live band and bought a CD, only to be disappointed in their production and recording process. This, however, was fantastic. All the same earnest, honest passion was there in every track, even starting with the same opener, 'Holiday'. The wide-open aching of the defining 'Action & Action', the contemplative 'Valentine' and a few surprises as well, like the soft and moving acoustic number 'Out Of Reach'. In what actually facilitated further appreciation and obsession on my part, the clean production and techinique on display here clarified what had nearly deafened me at the live show. While 'I'm A Loner...' was all wild abandon and heartbreak in concert, on the album I could discern the contrapuntal guitar lines and lyrics that only added to the weight of the song. One of my favorite tracks on the album is the straight-forward and propulsive 'Ten Minutes', which combines a fantastic drum intro, an urgent sense of momentum and some slick keys to make one hell of a song. 
This album is still a favorite of mine, one that I can still play today and find little nuances or details I hadn't picked up on before. It shaped the rest of my formative years, guiding my musical tastes and stylings, from other albums I listened to, to how I wrote my own songs at the time. There's an intelligence and articulate nature to the song writing that I completely flipped over. In keeping with my habits I listened to this album to the point of being totally sick of it for several years, that's the degree to which I had overkill. However, picking it up just a few years down the road brought with it a new sense of perspective and just a slightly broader world view. To my delight it held up wonderfully, unlike much of the music I can cop to listening to in high school. I'm not proud of it, but I had more than my share of albums by Staind and even (ugh) Korn. Yeah. But in my defense, a hook is a hook, and I'm a sucker for catchy songs. But I digress. Something To Write Home About is an absolute gem, a high water mark for the band and their fanbase that was never quite reached but subsequent releases. As great as some of their later work was, this album is far and away their best, and my appreciation of it only intensifies when I look back on that amazing show. I just wish I could have a similar experience again, sometime. 

4.21.2011

Simple Mistakes

Heyoooo.

How are you? You good? Me too.

In the continuing interest of examining the nature of one's exposure to music, today we're looking at forgotten things. In specific, I want to look briefly at the idea of being exposed to something, forgetting it and then having the massive head rush of recollection. It is essentially this core idea of the elusive remembrance that started this very blog - I was growing frustrated with the constant conversations I would find myself having with friends and family saying "Oh man, I totally forgot about that! It was so awesome, do you still listen to it?". Instead of becoming an overbearing presence at dinners and happy hours with these passionate diatribes regarding media both adored and neglected I decided to collect those thoughts here. 100+ posts later, I feel like I've done a fairly successful job of exorcising some of this pent up mix of enthusiasm and nostalgia. Nostalgiasm? No, enthusialga. Yes, much better. So what is this specific bit of music that elicited such a reaction? A song I hated at first but have now experienced a contradictory appreciation for, a prime example of 90s music and culture, in a further display of synergy with recurring themes in this blog. Today I write of the excessively titled 'Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand' by the long-dissolved Primitive Radio Gods.

Let's face it - you either know this song or don't, and if you know it you either love it or hate it. There's defiantly a divisive nature to the song and yet I can't put my finger on exactly what it is. Maybe it's that it wears its heart unabashedly on its sleeve. Maybe it has to do with the prominent use of the (then) controversial art of sampling (how quaint). Released as a single in June of 1996, this song was all over the radio in a big way. It was almost as though it was designed for success, arriving just before our current culture of crass commercialism and conspicuous consumption really gained momentum. Centering around a piano sample over a heavy drum loop, the song is a soft but contemplative and moody piece of work. In it, singer Chris O'Connor softly sings/mumbles the nonsensical lyrics about missed connections and old friends. The most well known feature about the song, though, is the B.B. King sample, taken from a 12-bar blues song released in 1964 called 'How Blue Can You Get?'. This short snippet of King wailing "I been downhearted baby, ever since the day we met" serves as a sort of refrain and thematic center to the song. All of these disparate elements serve to create a fantastic mish-mash of styles, the result being a sleepy, trip-hop-ish bit of mid-90s alternative music that feels perfectly at home on the radio even today. If you dig back through past posts I've written you could quickly discern that this single is right up my alley, given the tone of the song. What's odd for me, however, is that the song drove me absolutely up the wall when I first heard it. 

I'm not sure what it was about the song that bothered me so. I think it was most likely the dreamlike, ephemeral quality to it that contrasted with my youthful insistence on raucous energy and wild abandon, despite my uptight nature. At the time I was still heavily in to the likes of Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr., having no patience for anything even the slightest bit contemplative or basically not rushed and in-your-face. Whenever it was on the radio of when I saw the video (back when that was possible on terrestrial TV) I would immediately flip the channel. For all I know it could have been an instinctual reaction to the song affecting me on a deeper level, akin to putting my hands over my ears and shouting out the world. It was too soft, I was too hardcore, man. I was an idiot, because the song was great. Perhaps it served as a forerunner to how much I would love the somber, sneaking world of trip-hop down the line. My personal discovery of Bjork was still years away, Portishead even longer. This song basically hit me and bounced off. I wasn't ready for it's brilliance! But as pop music does in time, it moved on and Primitive Radio Gods only had minor success afterwords, never again hitting the heights they did with this song.

Years go by. 10 years, if I count accurately. I'm having a drink with my better half on our small deck above Uptown, enjoying the sunset and each other's conversation, her iPod playing quietly through the window. One song ends and then this one begins. It starts off just a bare drum track, with a bass line joining soon after. When this happened, some small part of my brain buzzed and my Spider Sense tingled. My eyes went wide and I sat back in my chair in wonderment. I looked at my better half and admitted "Oh dear god, I completely forgot about this song. I used to hate it so much."

She smiled, bemused and asked "Really?", her head turning slightly.

I nodded, answering "Yeah, I can't believe how wrong I was. This is so serene." She smiled and agreed.

The real lesson here?

She has better taste than me. 

4.20.2011

Being Confused

Moving along, let's hustle.

How goes it, kids? It's been another round of nasty weather in Minnesota and coupled with finally getting a prescription to get me over this funky business I am going to abstain from prattling on and on. Instead, I'll just do a short bit that falls nicely in line with the current trend in posts, that of the nature of discovery and exposure to music. While I've written a great deal about wonderful surprises and personal treasures, today's post flips the idea on its head. This is not about discovery but rather the ubiquity of a song and how I stubbornly refused to let it take hold for years. This particular song had to practically beat me over the head in order for me to pay attention, only for me to be completely oblivious. When I caught on, though, I was in love for sure. 

The song I'm referring to is the wonderful and fun 'Heartbeats' by Swedish electronic duo The Knife. This brother-sister team of popsters had been making music in their homeland and having success across the sea, meanwhile America paid little attention. It was only when the single from the 2003 album Deep Cuts was covered by Jose Gonzalez and licensed by Sony for a commercial did anyone in the U.S. sit up and take notice. This acoustic cover was a thing of beauty, a simple, stripped down recording of just Gonzalez and his guitar, softly crooning the song. The commercial was very popular, due simply to the use of the song, putting the cover into rotation on the radio. In cultural relevance to my own life, the local station Cities 97 had it in their regular playlists, with me being none the wiser. At some point my better half had heard the song and fallen in love with it, downloading it from iTunes and adding it to one of her numerous "Sunday Morning Cleaning" mixes. Still, I remained oblivious. One of my favorite sitcoms ever, the medical and musical Scrubs, even featured the song in an episode of their sixth season, before the show's quality took a nose dive (which seemed to coincide with the infamous and much contented Writer's Guild Strike, but we don't need to re-examine our painful memories of that season of TV). At this point the song had no doubt popped up in my life no less than three times which I must have heard it - I'm sure I saw the original commercial, I watch tons of TV, my better half's iPod certainly sees more action than mine and I've watched Scrubs so much I can call out the punch lines before they happen and spot character inconsistencies like any obnoxious fan. So what gives? Why couldn't this song take hold?

Simple. 

It wasn't the right version.

Rather, it wasn't the original version. You see, as fantastic as the acoustic cover can be, it's not necessarily my preferred version of the song. I certainly appreciate mellow music - look no further than the post three days ago about Joey Cape and his subdued solo work. I can dig a laid back track for bumming around my condo or having contemplative thoughts. But in this particualr instance it took something more vibrant to connect. When out for drinks with a close friend, he made passing reference to the original song. Being a clueless oaf, I admitted to never having heard it, which necessitated his rectifying that problem immediately via YouTube. Maybe it was the cocktails, maybe it was his suggestion or maybe it was the subconscious nostalgia of hearing-it-yet-never-having-heard-it-before, I was in love. The original popping and bouncing electronic version of this song makes my heart leap in my chest. There is simply a quality to the arrangement of the notes and the synthesizer tones The Knife chose that absolutely make me go blank when it comes on. I immediately bought the song and put it into all my mixes, starting and ending my day with this track. There's an intangible feeling the song conjures, a kind of elusive joy that I can only partially grasp when I hear those opening fuzzy notes. Like with any song it can dull with repetition and yet it can roar back to it's original levels with only a small break. It's really hard to get sick of this song, I've found. I think it's just that good, on some basic, foundational level. Having realized this, I do have an appreciation for the wonderful, relaxing cover that Gonzalez did of this song. It just operates on a different level, is all. 

I have no idea how I could be so oblivious to this amazing song for so long. Maybe I wasn't in the right headspace. Maybe I had my ears closed. How many of us have learned to just tune out the hip music constantly oozing from our TV sets and commercials? Still, one would think the warm charm of Jose Gonzalez' version would warrant my attention, yet I never really noticed it. My better half and I had a funny moment wherein we had to clarify via Wikipedia which version came first and we were both surprised that The Knife wrote it and not the other way around. It's funny how expectations and inattention can shape your world. I'm glad I woke up to this amazing song. I hope you find something like it, or just enjoy it on any level approaching mine. 

4.19.2011

Gimme A Minute

Week day, weak day.

So lately I've been branching down paths of recollection, looking back at the circumstances of which I am exposed to different musical acts. I find it both fascinating and enlightening to examine these circumstances, as I feel it gives greater context and understanding to why I love the things I do. For example, I've written about the influence older siblings have, the impact a friend's insight can have and how solitary exposure can be beneficial. Today's post, along these lines, is one of curiosity and surprise.

After college I was living in an apartment in Uptown, the gentrifying land of hipsters, fixies and condos. My better half had a place just two blocks away, much nicer than my own. While I had access to the internet, I had no cable, while she had both. Being in possession of a steady stream of shows, a much nicer TV, a much cleaner apartment and just in general being the better half, we ended up spending much more time at her place than mine. One Friday night while preparing for an evening out with friends, I was paging through the content on her cable box's On Demand programming. As is often the case, I was relaxing while she prepped and primped. Neither of us content to simply have the TV drone on in the background as white noise and both being tired of our usual iTunes playlists, I asked if she minded me playing some music videos that were available. Having missed the heady days of MTV and the actual music videos they showed in my childhood, I hoped for some hip content to bring back that feeling of engaging new culture via the format. There was, unfortunately, a great deal of mediocrity - bands I won't shame here for their unwitting involvement in corporate synergy. Not all of them were bad though. Indeed, there were old Beastie Boy videos, in particular the excellent 'So Whatcha Want' that has the trio hopping around in the woods while rocking the requisite mid-90s flannel and knit hats. As I flipped through the titles I noticed a name that rang a bell far back in my mind. I knew the name of the band but couldn't remember what was special about them. So out of curiosity I pressed play. Instead of a video I was watching a seven minute short film, titled 'From Yesterday'. Half a minute in, I remembered. 

30 Seconds To Mars. Fronted by Jared Leto, the band had built a buzz separate from the famous frontman, who had acted in roles such as the teenage heartthrob Jordan Catalano in 'My So Called Life' and the beaten-to-a-pulp Angelface in 'Fight Club'. While their first album had been under the radar, this outing, 'A Beautiful Lie', went on to sell well over a million copies worldwide. So how had I missed the boat? I have no idea. I loved what I heard and saw in the clip, though. The song was a mix between measured, restrained verses peppered with plucked guitars and almost whispered, strained vocals and anthemic choruses and ringing, wailing chords. Basically a knockout. The film was interesting as well, a nice departure from the manic and relentless fast cuts that are typical of the modern era. Instead we have long, epic shots in Chinese courtyards, the video apparently being one of the first ever filmed in China. The narrative is forgivably loose, given the medium, but the way it plays off the mood and tone of the song counter this lack of clarity. I was hooked. From in front of the mirror in the other room I heard my better half call out "What was that?" I explained. "Hmm. They're good. Play it again," was the response I got. So I did. She was right, it's a fantastic song.   
The next morning I downloaded the entire album on iTunes and listened with rapt attention. What I got wasn't perfect but I accepted it, flaws and all. That being said, the album itself is very good, but as a whole the singles really do stand out as shining moments. It's almost as if the creative mojo was concentrated or condensed for the singles, robbing some of the other tracks of energy or vibrancy. 'Attack' is a phenomenal, propulsive affair that evolves from a wrap-around synth line that ties it all together. It's catchy and energetic, building to a powerful refrain. 'The Kill' features a set of dynamics similar to 'From Yesterday', all quiet and brooding in the verse and breaking open in the chorus. To further the similarity the video for the song is another grand undertaking, seeing the band do an extended retelling of The Shining from their perspectives. It's a great video, definitely worth a look.
 So why was I so into the album if it felt so uneven? I think it again is centrally tied to the circumstances of discovery. I had heard of the band but had never dug into their catalog. Stumbling upon them at that point in their career was like stumbling into an Oscar winning movie about twenty minutes in - you stay for the rest of it but want immediately to start it up from the beginning, wishing the whole time that your experience had been one chronological progression. The surprise and spontaneity of being exposed to the music made an impression on me. Here was a band selling millions of albums, doing worldwide tours and yet I was the only person I knew who was into them. How could that be? I had trouble reconciling the notion, yet simultaneously took great pleasure in my personal, hidden treasure. If, for some reason, you haven't checked them out before, do so now. 

4.18.2011

I Shouldn't Talk

Hola, kids.

Back into the work week we go.

Yesterday I wrote a short bit about how great Joey Cape's solo debut is while only barely mentioning his career with Lagwagon. What I may not have expressed fully in that brief aside is the simple fact that I love Lagwagon. Not to the extent of my obsessions with Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins, mind you, but in a simpler manner of really enjoying the band without going overboard into blind devotion.  My appreciation for Lagwagon mostly stems from the short but sweet album Let's Talk About Feelings, a release that turned me on to their simple yet passionate style of pop-punk music. 



When I was in the early part of high school I had been enamored with various radio-friendly pop-punk bands, the usual fare for the time such as Green Day, The Ataris, MxPx and Blink-182. Nothing too deep in the scene, the very fluff of it really. I previously wrote about a friend slipping me a disc of Thrice's music and how it brought me into another vein of musical appreciation. This same friend had, just a couple years earlier, grown tired of my playing the same bands over and over and decided to do something about it. When exiting my car after school one day he turned and said "Oh yeah, this is for you" and tossed me a burned disc. No explanation, just tossed the disc on the seat and walked off. Sometimes that's the best way to be given a new piece of art or media - no long explanation to set up expectations or tell you how to interpret it. Just take it and listen. That introduction, a casual one-off gesture, may well have been the reason I received the band so well. To completely miss this point, I'll now ignore my own advice.
The album is the product of a bunch of So-Cal punks, playing tight and fast as a cohesive unit. Used to making albums on a shoestring budget in limited time, they formed a tight group that fit like clockwork. Unlike the spate of bands in the mid-90s that sold out or bought in (Green Day, Rancid, Offspring) Lagwagon made a conscious effort to stay on Fat Wreck Chords, headed by Fat Mike of NOFX. Having released several albums on the label, the band set to work in the studio for this album in 1998. Clocking in at just under 26 minutes, its an insanely short but solid album, with no filler whatsoever. The songs are short and to the point, but still manage to feel like full blown affairs. These aren't your double time, fast-n-furious punk numbers, but rather punchy little pop songs that have a gritty realness to them. Guitar parts are played with loose strumming and palm-mutes galore, their tone creating a crunch that permeates the album. The songs here, while intense and uptempo, are not simply played with wild abandon but with raucous energy that propels their earnest nature into something more tangible. It's toe-tapping stuff with insightful, amusing lyrics coupled with melodies and hooks that really grab your ear. Choruses become the wide-open, sing along type that made them mainstays on the Warped Tour while they steadfastly remained underground. If you're looking for what So-Cal pop-punk can be when it isn't homogenized or watered down, look no further.
This band, and in particular this album, are favorites of mine for their earnest and honest approach. There's simply no posturing here - the songs speak for themselves. Rather than ramble on for hundreds of words I'll just leave it at this. It's a fantastic album I can let play straight through without skipping any songs, which is quite a feat in our overstimulated modern world. Even some of the albums I've previously written about have the occasional clunker or sub par track. That is not the case here. Check out Lagwagon's Let's Talk About Feelings. I'll let the music do the talking for me. 

4.17.2011

Bridgework

End of the weekend. Bummer.


The weather kind of improved, but not much. Had a nice walk in the fading sunlight down to Fuji Ya, which is hands down the best sushi in Minneapolis. They're doing a Summer Roll on special right now, it's an exquisite inversion of their Winter Roll. Both are insanely good. If you have a chance you really ought to give it a try. But I digress. A quiet Sunday night like this I like to wind the weekend down with a bit of laid back music while getting ready for the week. I sound like a party animal, don't I? Screw it, I'll do what I want! Point is, if you're looking for an album you can put on while kick back on a Sunday night look no further than Joey Cape's solo record Bridge.
Released in 2008, the album is Joey's first completely solo endeavor. He wrote, recorded and produced the entire thing himself. Having fronted the long running legendary punk band Lagwagon for years in addition to the more experimental Bad Astronaut, this record afforded Cape the chance to express his sekrit softer side. I don't mean that in the sense of him singing lovey-dovey ballads, but more in the sense of him being able to do something that doesn't involve the double kick-drums of his excellent punk band. Bridge sees Cape singing softly with a nuanced sense of performance. His voice, while great with the propulsive, dynamic Lagwagon, is even better here, moving in and out of pleasing, soothing range and tone. There's a softness and genuine humanity to it, which is a refreshing relief when you've spent the weekend out and about, in loud bars or clubs. Sunday night with Joey Cape on is just this side of a lullaby - I hope that's not misconstrued as a dig because I think it's a great compliment. The songs here are well crafted and engaging, but they way Cape has written and arranged them, coupled with his voice, makes them just roll right over you like sunshine. 
Tracks are both laid back yet energetic, depending on what the song calls for. 'Errands' is a reworking of a Lagwagon song, which still bounces along nicely. 'The Ramones Are Dead' is a pleasantly upbeat number, feeling like the best of his work and feels totally natural. These songs don't feel like a punk trying his hand at an acoustic guitar - they feel absolutely organic and normal coming from Cape. 'Who We've Become' is a fantastic song that gets your toe tapping just a bit, using that nice behind the beat rhythm of a seasoned player. One of my favorite tracks on the record is the melodic and contemplative 'Canoe'. The picking is gorgeous, as is Cape's singing. I'm also fairly certain that's Cape's young daughter making a surprise appearance at the end of the track, emphasizing the optimistic air he creates.
This album really is a wonderful way to wind down the weekend. Head over to Joey Cape's site and download a copy if you want a little music to put on while sitting outside and having a drink, or just put it on while you go for a morning walk. It's the best kind of singer-songwriter stuff out there, where you absolutely see what the artist is getting at. Cape's voice and playing work together incredibly well, a seasoned veteran of his craft. It's nice to see him step out of his role as a punk singer and stretch his wings a bit. Sorry to see the weekend come to a close, but music like this helps me make the transition.

4.16.2011

Look, I Was 12 - Okay?

It's the weekend. No Rebecca Black jokes, I promise.

In the ongoing interest of deeply personal and potentially embarrassing confessions, here's one that's bound to disappoint someone: I can't stand U2. There. I said it. Now, I should clarify I don't loathe them to the degree with which I detest Bon Jovi but it does run deep. Maybe it's not even U2, but what they've come to be in our shared pop culture lexicon - Bono with his stupid yellow sunglasses. I pretty much picture him posturing and mugging for the camera at all times. South Park hit the nail on the head. They weren't always like this, though. I do appreciate their early work when they had passion and something to prove - Sunday Bloody Sunday is fantastic, as is Where The Streets Have No Name. I guess it's somewhere right around the Popmart tour that I just lose the connection. There's justifiable egocentrism and then there's ego for ego's sake. When musicians begin meeting with heads of state we might have crossed a line. But really, this is coming across as far to damning. What the preamble is aiming to do is set up the fact that, while I am no big fan of the band, there is one particular song that not only is a massive guilty pleasure for me but seemingly a mere footnote in the band's canon. This brings us down the winding path of personal recollection, though, so strap in while I shovel the nostalgia out of the way to explain just why 'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me' is such a fantastic song. 

As I've written about to an embarrassing degree, I was brought up in the heady days of the 90s before the propagation of the internet, when irony was just becoming a thing that Gen X-ers were beginning to wield as a self defense mechanism. What this meant for my adolescent self was that if it was in the main stream of pop culture, especially marketed to me, I was in. Hook, line and sinker. Maybe I was too young to know better. Sure, I can look back now and say Batman Forever was where the original run of the series began to go downhill, but as a young male with a predilection for comics and (lets be honest) anything Batman related, this was mega. Around this time I had just begun to explore the world of music and MTV, via the gospel of my older brother. To connect the dots in the most blatant manner, what we end up with here is the Batman Forever Soundtrack. Yeah. Like I said, embarrassing if honest confessions. But what's of particular curiousty to my own understanding of the world is how chicken-and-egg this soundtrack was for my musical tastes. It's a veritable slice of mise en scene for the mid 90s music scene. Look who made (inexplicable) contributions to the compilation: U2, Brandy, Method Man (lolwut?), Nick Cave (again, what?) The Offspring, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Flaming Lips, PJ Harvey and Seal. Now, how many of those artists do you think of and then say to yourself "Yeah, Batman would totally listen to that!" All of them, right? Me too. It's a like an anthropologist could dig this up in 100 years and say "Huh, what a mess of a pop culture they had. Must've been before advertisers really went nuts and homogenized and niche-marketed everything in Hollywood..." From glam rock to hip hop to punk to emo, all these genres are things I still cling to today. So I ask myself was this the reason or an indicator? Strange. 
I say all this with withering scorn and all the self-aggrandizing hindsight and yet I still love at most of those acts. In particular, though, is the U2 contribution. It's in that sweet spot where the band was just edging up to the line of ego-driven arena rock. To wit, the song is about, according to Bono himself, being a rock star in a massively popular band. Okay, while I can swallow that, it's still a fantastic song. The structure and layout of the song show a deft use of dynamics, as it opens with a buzzsaw riff that displays why The Edge is such a respected guitarist. Despite the name, he can create really unique sounds and scenes with his instrument. The verses are looping acoustic guitars accompanying Bono's crooning, and it's here where I can still see the appeal of the band. He has a fantastic voice and absolutely knows how to phrase his vocals. There are a series of solitary notes The Edge picks when the chorus begins that just set such a distinct tone that feels iconic. Bono wails the title to the track over some evocative chords and the song's cycle begins again. It's a little by the numbers but given the fact it was relegated to a sub-par popcorn movie soundtrack, I can forgive that. What I think hooks me is the tone and mood of the song. It's mysterious and glam rock at it's best. So why do I have such a schizophrenic view of it? I guess it would be that I can't admit to myself that I really like the song, yet can't stand the band. Everyone has one of those, I'm sure. For me, it's this.
I though perhaps it was the rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia tainting my appreciation for the song, but 99 cents later I listened to it and...it still holds up. The video is deliciously mid-90s cheese, all animated clips of the band playing interspersed with movie footage, but I would watch the Masters if I knew that Batman would start fighting with the Riddler on the 18th hole. Still, I find myself contesting my own appreciation of this fantastic song from a detested band. No one wants to confront the fact that all their assumptions and opinions may be wrong and that's what this song represents on some level. It suggests that maybe U2 is okay and I'm too harsh on them. This is certainly one of the most negative posts I've written and I think it stems from this cognitive dissonance. Regardless of my internal strife that derives from a near 20-year old song, you should listen to it, just to see what all my fuss is about.