Lots of words and music this week, so let’s just knock out the shameless self-promotion quick:
– follow the Tunes You Should Know In 2014 playlist on Spotify that chronicles all the songs I’ve written about this year so far
– follow me on Twitter so I can charge more when doing freelancing gigs/you can learn about hot new tunes in real time
On to the music!
- Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien
Second-wave emo, which is what a majority of the population thinks of when they think of the term of “emo” (if they think of anything at all), was won by a handful of artists:
– Fall Out Boy: They are somehow still pop stars.
– Panic At The Disco: They turned one album that was better than Fall Out Boy into a 10-year long career. Exclamation point or not, they’re still ca$hing them checks.
– Blink 182: The “veterans” who hate each other but still tour arenas (side note: who would have thought Blink 182 would be our generations’ Rolling Stones?).
– Taking Back Sunday/Brand New/New Found Glory/Motion City Soundtrack: some of the more talented bands in the genre, but they’re basically stuck in a time capsule.
and last but most assuredly not least, My Chemical Romance.
At a time when Hot Topic was rivaling Abercrombie and Fitch in terms of sales revenue and it was conformist to non-conform, Gerard Way, the camera-loved frontman of My Chemical Romance had gone from a comic book-loving pudgy nerd into a cult leader whose albums were gospel to an entire genre.
Gerard Way is My Chemical Romance and My Chemical Romance is emo. By the transitive property, we can conclude Gerard Way is emo. Even when he dyed his hair blonde and went all militant and even during My Chemical Romance’s bright festive Dark Days curtain call, that was true. Until now…
Because Gerard Way isn’t My Chemical Romance anymore.
My Chemical Romance, like most romances that began in 2001, has ended. Gerard Way is now just Gerard Way. And while he could have blamelessly kept those brands intertwined a bit as he moved on into his new solo career, it appears he has a different narrative in mind, thus bringing me to the reason why I have spent the first hundred words of this week’s column talking about emo music sort of popular 10 years ago…
Gerard Way’s new solo album, Hesitant Alien, is really good.
Trust me. I’ve listened to it a few times now and it’s true. It’s ambitious, it’s creative, and it delivers. Way has always had a knack for musical showmanship and an understanding of how to leverage grandiosity in work, but this album has him taking what used to be influences or diversions in My Chemical Romance songs and fleshing them out into fully-formed, passionately-delivered rock (but not emo) songs.
Album opener “The Bureau” could pass for Jack White, “No Shows” is a perfectly constructed pop-rock song, “Million” should be hand-delivered to every ‘garage rock band out of Queens’ that boutique record labels love to shop around these days, “Juarez” absolutely shreds, “Get The Gang Together” could have been on Spoon’s new album, and even “Zero Zero” is the harmless anthemic rock song that U2 would have been much better off sticking on every iPhone 6. It’s one of the most pleasant surprises of 2014, and it’s a nice reminder to never give up on people.
I personally thought Way had probably peaked back when The Used and My Chemical Romance crushed a live cover of “Under Pressure” together, but now I find myself proudly proclaiming that I cannot wait to see Gerard Way the next time he comes to town: BONUS: If you want to get a great explanation as to how this surprising album came into being, I highly recommend listening to Andy Greenwald’s podcast on Grantland this week where he interviews Way.
- JUNGLE – “Busy Earnin’” “Platoon”
Jungle has appeared in this column three times already — first back in July of 2013 when I covered the “mysterious” new act who put out “Platoon” and “Drops,” second back in May when “Busy Earnin’” broke radio silence from Jungle, and lastly back in August when guest-writer Justin McCarthy expounded upon their solid from front to back self-titled debut album — but after seeing them live at Black Cat last night, they’re getting thrown in for an almost unprecedented fourth time. Because I can’t be alone when I say that I did not expect a Jungle live show to be like that.
Back when Jungle first hit the scene, I, like many, assumed this mystery act was another bedroom producer who spent way too much time on Logic and Ableton. I figured that like all enigmatic producers, eventually we’d find out he was just some random dorky dude who somehow could make great examples of what Justin called “summer cool” music. Only then it turned out Jungle wasn’t just one person, but two: Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, two friends who have known each other since growing up as neighbors in London. Then it turned out that this new duo was really fronting a whole band. Then that 7-person band stepped on stage at Black Cat last night and coaxed a 10pm dance party out of a Tuesday night crowd even though their lighting was terrible (it was all backlit, meaning you couldn’t see/connect with the eclectically fun performers) and Black Cat isn’t known for having the best sound low-end sound in the world.
They forced a great time through sheer force of will and an incredibly tight performance. Obviously they’re a new band so they’re still getting their stage sea legs — the vocals aren’t quite there yet in terms of live intensity and they stick so close to the sonic script of the album that it occasionally feels like you’re just listening to the album at home — but after seeing what Jungle is capable of live and what they’re trying to do, I am really excited to see where they go from here.
- Great Caesar – “Don’t Ask Me Why”
I admittedly don’t know much about Great Caesar.
To be honest, the only reason I know about them at all is because horn-playing band-member Stephen Chen performs double-duty in San Fermin, whom I am fortunate enough to call at the vey least business acquaintances. He let me know Great Caesar was playing a show at Velvet Lounge last night, so the minute Jungle was over at Black Cat I booked it over to 9th and U in time to catch their last 3 songs.
And if Jungle was a dance party, Great Caesar was a hootenanny. With emphatic horn players, a charming male/female vocal duo, and shit-eating-grin energy, they had the cramped Velvet Lounge audience dancing just as hard as the much more well-known duo from London that I had just seen previously. I would have enjoyed a whole other hour of them, but sadly, after a set closer that featured a dueling saxophone/lead-guitar solo-off, that was that and I was left doing last minute research on this band before I sent this column in. And that led me to this interesting discovery…
Great Caesar loves the gays. I don’t mean that as an insult, and I don’t mean that I presume that any or every member in the group is gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). I mean that they, possibly just for the optimistic reason that they want to help promote social equality, actively align themselves with gay rights activism. “Don’t Ask Me Why,” the lead single off their upcoming EP, features a video that would make “Same Love” blush, and they’re playing 10 shows in 11 hours on October 11th in New York City as part of National Coming Out Day.
And personal opinions that it’s nice to see musicians promote activism aside, this is a genius marketing move.
Since the Mumfordization of rock desensitized us to this style of baroque pop/chamber folk rock/whatever this is called, it’s not like this band jumps out as something unique musically even if they are talented (if they didn’t have the horn section, they’d be nowhere). But now, with this message and this video and this angle, they’re an easy story to cover. If I’m a lazy journalist who needs something to write about, the inoffensively enjoyable band with the music video about interracial and gay couples is a pretty easy way to get some clicks. Just look at this press recap:
If you’re just one of a million bands submitting stuff to Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, it’s almost all luck, but by championing a cause that the media just so happens to love to write about, this band now has pickup on some major media websites. While it would take a true cynic to think this was all a promotional move, especially given the earnest Kickstarter that came before it, you have to admit it’s one damn good marketing move and Great Caesar is going to gobble up gay-friendly press when they do this Coming Out Day marathon of shows in a a week and a half.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
- Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen – “I Am The Cute One”
I threw a lot at you already, and last night while trying to explain to Mollie that I was the cute one in our relationship, I remembered this song existed. I hadn’t heard it in years and I am now wondering why Phil Collins didn’t sue these two for talking over one of his demos. You’re welcome.