Five weeks ago (god, is a tenth of the year over ALREADY?) I made a New Years resolution to find a rock band to get really excited about. When I mentioned this on the podcast, you guys chimed in with twenty-four awesome suggestions that I promptly failed to listen to. Well, I’m turning over a new leaf! Last night, I sat down and started rocking the heck out. And today, you get to read what I thought of them. Of the first four, at any rate. Twenty-four songs is kind of a lot to write up all at once. If I didn’t get to your suggestion today (which unless you’re the commenter known as Babybiceps, I didn’t — I more or less went at them in the order they were suggested), don’t worry, I’ll get to it eventually.
In most cases, you suggested a band (which to be fair is what I asked for), so I picked the song to listen to by the highly scientific expedient of using the first video for each band that has an embeddable youtube link. (When possible, I tried to pick something with an actual music video rather than a fan dub.) If you suggested a specific song, though, I listened to that one.
N.B. This post doesn’t follow our general policies on clean language and adult situations, which is why the rest of it is behind the cut. Only appropriate for a rock n’ roll piece, I guess.
1) The Vaccines: Post Breakup Sex
(recommended by Babybiceps)
• Once upon a time, a band called The Strokes appropriated a sound and approach to music from The Cure, and skunged it up a little bit into something that, for a while, at least, in 2001, seemed vital and new. The Vaccines basically seem to have just de-skunged it right back into being The Cure, except without all that charmingly idiotic naivete that makes The Cure worth getting into in the first place.
• I assumed that this song was going to be about post-breakup sex with your ex: like, you broke up with him/her, ended up having coffee, and ended up screwing in a gazebo. Instead, it’s essentially about rebound sex, which is a much less interesting topic.
• WHERE IS THE MASHUP OF THIS SONG WITH BIRTHDAY SEX BY JEREMIH? WHERE? Because I would prefer to listen to that version.
• On the plus side: this is a really well crafted song. The melody, the form, the arrangement, the couple of little self-consciously raw touches (like that awkward “Ah-aaah” bit at the end of the bridge) are all solidly satisfying. It sounds like what a song’s supposed to sound like, and if that means it never quite surprises you, well, there’s worse things. I will be filing these guys together with Oasis, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, and Cole Porter in the great Spotify playlist of my mind. And that’s not an insult, by any means.
2) The Joy Formidable: Cradle
(recommended by Babybiceps)
• So someone apparently read my crossover fanfic where Veronica Mars is Draco Malfoy’s bratty little sister and made it into a rock band. And that’s fine. (I am basing this characterization entirely on her haircut and outfit, which, to be fair, is all I’ve got to work with.)
• The visual gimmick of this video is pretty clearly supposed to be that Post-Punk Malfoy Mars over there is on a teeter totter with all the various other people, and that’s fine. But it’s sort of fun to try to imagine what else might be going on. Are they all posting on horses? Jumping on a trampoline? Nodding really, really enthusiastically?
• I liked this a whole hell of a lot, truth be told, but I think about %90 of my enjoyment is coming from the lead singer’s voice. The guitar solos and whatnot were totally fine, and I actually quite like the ethereal little “ooweeoo” vocals, but the song almost lost me whenever she stopped singing. Not a great sign for my future enjoyment of a band — I find that typically a really great voice can get me to like just about exactly one album all on its own, but after that it’s diminishing returns.
• On the plus side: in this song, at least, her voice sounds awesome. It’s partially a function of how she’s recorded, I think — is there an chorus effect of some kind, there, or an overdub? And partially a function of the difference between the extreme presence and brittleness of her voice, and the extreme distance and suppleness of the backing vocals. But mostly it has to do with the way her voice falls away from the pitch after hitting it, which turns a song that only has three notes in it, properly speaking, into something complex and sonically interesting. Autotune has its place in music, but let it be said, pitch correction of ANY kind would squash this song like a bug.
• I have my reservations, but I will be listening to at least another song or two by these people. Here’s hoping they stick the landing.
3) The Black Keys: Tighten Up
(Recommended by Babybiceps)
• Good things about the video: I like that the Glasses family carries donuts around in their pockets to use as friendship tokens. Little kids flipping eachother off and shouting (silently) “Mother FUCKER,” and going all feral and murderous is an old joke, but one I’m not tired of yet. The way that the reveal of the adult woman is keyed to the awesome breakdown in the song is just brilliant, and a good example of how a video can bring out the best in a song.
• Bad things about the video: Women being sly and conniving and playing dudes off against each other is an old joke that I am, to be honest, pretty tired of. Here as in the video for Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You,” the director seems to think it’s cuter if you do it with kids. But it’s not.
• Good things about the song: Everything. This totally goes into the rotation. So funky, so crisp, so soulful! And that breakdown, as already noted, is pretty choice. (I’ve got rather a soft spot for songs that change, then end, rather than going back to the A section.)
• What’s bad about the song: Alas, it gets disqualified on a technicality. I can’t count this as “getting excited about a new rock band,” because based on the evidence of this song, The Black Keys are a soul band, and I get excited by that kind of music all the time. Imagine Otis Redding or Sam Cooke singing this, and ask yourself whether you’d have to change anything else about the arrangement. Listen to this and Gnarls’ Barkley’s “Crazy” back to back, and tell me there’s a generic distinction to be made between them. Still, that was a treat to hear, and it’s nice to know about these guys.
4) McLusky: Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues (There’s the adult situation. The song-picking algorithm, she is a harsh mistress).
(Recommended by Babybiceps)
• Interesting title, to say the least. I find myself wondering what “Lightsabre Cocksucking” is. Does one… does one put the lightsaber in one’s mouth? That seems extremely unsafe. Or does “cocksucking” modify blues, so that it’s really just an intense case of the lightsabre blues?
• More to the point, I’m always intrigued by songs that reference a form of music that they aren’t. This isn’t a blues song, it need hardly be said. So what’s the word doing there? Off the top of my head, it feels like a reference to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” And yeah, there’s a sense in which hardcore (or this band, at least) can be seen as a successor to Bob Dylan. One particular aspect of Dylan’s style that is, developed as far as it could possibly go, and all else discarded.
• So, as the singer for Joy Formidable is to pitch, this guy’s voice is to rhythm. It’s not… quite… there, in a way that’s probably actually super hard to pull off. It’s quite wonderful, really. But again, I worry about this band’s ability to hold my attention over the long run. Can McClusky make a song that isn’t basically this song wearing a fake moustache? I will have to find out. And the trouble is, if there other songs really are quite different, it’ll probably feel like they sold out and went corporate. You’re damned if you do…
• I tried listening to two other Mclusky songs, “Falco vs. the Young Canoeist” and “Undress for Success.” My fears were justified. The first one sounds too much like “Lightsaber Cocksucking Blues” (although this may be a function of me not knowing enough about hardcore to recognize all the subtle expressive differences.) The second one seems so disappointingly normal alongside the other two.
And that’s it for this installment. In a couple of weeks, I’ll pick up with Timothy Swann’s suggestions. Going into this, I set an artificial limit for myself of only listening to one song by each band before writing the post, with the idea that if I found myself unable to stop myself from breaking the rule, it would mean that I had found a band that I was really into. Mclusky was interesting enough that I broke the rule, and although I didn’t like what I found enough to say “done and done, resolution fulfilled,” I feel like I’m halfway there.