Bryce Rudow is a contributing writer for All Things Go
Overloaded by all the “new music” options you keep hearing about? We’re here to help. Here’s five songs, and in this week’s case, a mixtape, we think you should fucking know (this week). Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments too.
Let’s face it. There’s too much information out there. There’s too many articles and books to read, too many shows and movies to watch, and too many songs to listen to. Unbridled access to the infinite levels of information and entertainment out there is just as daunting as it is exciting.
When we recently started time-tracking at my office (which sucks, by the way), it made me realize that not only should I find a doctor whose very lax on the definition of ADD and quick to write prescriptions, but that I also spend at least 90 minutes a day just making sure I’m caught up with whatever the hell is going on in the world that day. God forbid I’m the last to know about the New York Times completely changing the way newspapers will be presenting stories online from now on or something equally as serious like the fact that there are punctuation marks I’ve never heard of. The amount of work needed to stay culturally relevant takes more and more effort and energy.
Recently, my dad joined Twitter and asked me the simple but incredibly hard to answer question, “So now what do I do?” I had to explain that Twitter was whatever you made of it (because I’m helpful like that). Pointless status updates aside, it’s a curator of information from sources that one has deemed poignant and worth 140 characters of his or her time. Essentially, that is what modern daily life is now as well. To exist (without being tied to a computer screen forever) is to decide what is valuable, newsworthy, or entertaining; most importantly, it is to decide what mediums and channels we see fit to filter out that which isn’t valuable to us and to deliver that which we believe is necessary.
That is basically a long-winded way for me to introduce/explain some of the songs this week. As 2012 is ending, there are a few albums and songs that I either missed as they came out or never found a place for in my column, and I don’t want the calendar to turn without having given them the attention they deserve. So without further ado, here we go.
- Divine Fits – “Flaggin A Ride”
Handsome Furs were one of those bands that snuck up on me with a great single, “Repatriated,”, and a rewarding, thorough third album, 2011’s Sound Kapital. Dan Boeckner, the frontman for the group and noteworthy as an integral part of Wolf Parade, crafted an infectious stirring of nostalgic rock and highly-danceable accompaniments. Because of it, I retroactively explored their past releases, as well as Wolf Parade’s discography, confidently deciding Boeckner was someone worth following in the future.
Britt Daniel of Spoon, however, most likely needs no introduction, which is a good thing because he has been so musically prolific and so varied in his life CV that I don’t think I could handle all the research that would entail. Instead, I can just reminisce about Spoon’s seminal Kill The Moonlight and how I used “The Way We Get By” for the mix CD I gave my friends when we graduated high school (of course I did this). No matter where Daniel popped up, whether it be as part of the musical team for Will Ferrell’s underappeciated Stranger Than Fiction or on his compilation album with Conor Oberst, I found myself rocking out to his woozy garage rock.
This all comes back to Divine Fits now…
Someone posted Divine Fit’s cover of The Boys Next Door’s “Shiver” somewhere without introducing the band (vague, I know). I really liked it, but found myself defensively crying out, “This sounds like a complete rip-off of Britt Daniel!” only to find out, low and behold, that Divine Fits is in fact made up of Spoon members and the aforementioned Dan Boeckner. It turns out that Daniel attended a Handsome Furs show a few years ago, met Boeckner, and casually joked they should start a band together. That joke turned into a reality and that reality spawned this year’s This Is Divine Fits. While their album as a whole can pretty easily be dissected into which songs were written by whom, that doesn’t detract from its overall excellence. It ranges from enticing, lazy grooves like “Would That Not Be Nice” to fuzzed out jams like “Baby Gets Worse”, and the two frontmen howl, croon, and strut across the album’s 11 tracks incredibly well. Since I have to highlight one song, though, I’m choosing the second track on the album, “Flaggin A Ride”. It’s a great example of how well these two artists’ distinct but similar sounds have been brought together, with its bluesy backbone fleshed out by instrumentation that dances around anxiously, but percussively. This entire LP is worthy of a spin or two during your free time before you head back to work after the holidays.
- Dark Mean – “Happy Banjo”
I have wanted to share this song for a long time, but it somehow never got done. More accurately, though, I wanted to share the feeling of this song, but could never quit figure how to get started doing it.
I realized, eventually, that this song feels like all the great ex-girlfriends and all the great memories attached to them (and bad memories that time has turned nostalgic) rolled into one. It’s sweet, unassuming, free-spirited, and honest. And it makes me not that afraid to sound like a very poor man’s John Cusack when writing that. Just like the High Fidelity star, it flirts with genres, structures, and wordplay that could so easily be cheesy or contrived, but it stays the course throughout and delivers a spiritual uplift that packs an emotional wallop for how carefree it is.
I think some people might get turned off from this song at first because it seems like the kind of song anyone could have written due to the fact that it’s so casually simple. However, to keep with the Ex-Girlfriend Memory theory, looking back, aren’t those fond, intricate memories really just examples of simple, universal moments of happiness that are made impactful because of your experience with them? Whole days spent in bed, inside jokes laughed at, weekend getaways. They’re so generic at their core, but because they were your days spent in bed, your inside jokes, and your weekends, they have power. “Anyone” could write this song because everyone has felt the way this song feels. “Happy Banjo” captures that powerful, universal, uplifting simplicity, and that is why it feels like those legendary moments.
Dark Mean’s bio on their website tells you all the basics like they’re a trio from Hamilton, Ontario who are hoping to have an album out in 2013. What it also makes sure to mention is that “Dark Mean are first and foremost great friends, which is instrumental to them being a great band.” After I finished “Aww”ing at that, I downloaded their album and realized just how well it encapsulates them. They are, no doubt about it, a great band who have put together a great album, but what is present on every song, even the lamenting “Music Box” or the haunting “Lullaby,”, is a sweeping feeling of contentment in the performance that only comes across when art is truly enjoyed as it’s being delivered.
While too unnoticed to even say that they slipped through the cracks, I’d love to see this band get more recognition soon.
- Reptar – “Orifice Origami”
It is with tremendous trepidation that I write about Reptar. Ever since All Things Go posted about them almost two years ago, they have been one of the most-played artists on my iTunes. Their album, Oblangle Fizz Y’all, is one of the best albums front to back I have ever had the pleasure of obsessing over, and I truly believe that “Phonetics” off of it is one of the most heart-wrenching and moving songs ever written…but that might be a good place to introduce the big “but” (haha big butt).
But (you’re still thinking about butts) then I listened to a live performance of “Phonetics” they did for KEXP. It sounded good, was technically impressive, and it seemed like they were having fun. BUT I don’t think this song should have been fun. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen Reptar play at least four or five times live, and it is a chaotic party that has an energy and positivity that can’t be matched. Lead singer Graham Ulicny contorts his extremities as much as his vocals, playing ringleader of the whole sonic circus when they perform. He seems to be having the time of his life, feeding off the energy of audiences that are usually quick to respond to the bizarre, seemingly devil-may-care frontman. BUT, what I have unfortunately never gotten to see from Graham when he performs live is the stripped-down vulnerability that is so prevalent on “Phonetics” or hinted at on “Context Clues.”
I know I went off about Phonetics and their first album, but I wanted to write about “Orifice Origami” for a reason. You see, this is where the trepidation comes in. It isn’t about them not playing the songs I want to hear live or not playing them “the right way”, though. It’s about them choosing over ironic weirdness over artistic courageousness…
After gaining some healthy national attention while touring, the group from Athens, Georgia released their “debut” album Body Faucet. Overall, it was good with some moments of really great thrown in; luckily for them, Reptar’s good is much better than most band’s great. It was polished, catchy, and just the right amount of experimental, BUT what it was not was vulnerable. The “weird” moments seem so tongue-in-cheek that they actually become catchy themselves, and even the album’s emotional closer, “Water Runs” eventually turns into a synth-heavy singalong jam.
“Orifice Origami” is the perfect example of this. It’s one of the best songs on the album and one I catch myself coming back to time and time again (it’s also a great song to bike around the city too). BUT the quirky intro does everything it can to jar the listener into realizing that it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a shame, too, because when the verse finally kicks in, that “Something’s not right here!” loses the impact its immediacy deserves. Eventually, the song seems comfortable enough to settle into its own groove, building to a crescendo midway through the song that is cathartically freeing and could have been a fitting end right there. Even the follow-up verse somewhat feels like a welcome aftershock. BUT then the outro of Graham’s vocal scatting reminds us that we shouldn’t invest too much in kids that are young enough to name their band after a niche character from a now-ironic cartoon.
Graham and company are incredibly, incredibly talented, and they’re sure to get more and more popular as people discover them, but because of what I have seen they are capable of, I’m going to be holding them to a very high standard when they release whatever they come out with next, and I’m hoping that some of that polish is scratched away to reveal the same kids that recorded “Phonetics.”
- Bombe & Mr. Caribbean – The James Drake Mixtape
While the brainchild of the Pennsylvania pun-lovers Tim Shaw and Luis Angel Cancel has been out for quite a while, it’s another one of those things that I always wanted to share but never got a chance to write about.
I’m always shocked when fans of James Blake or Drake (aka most people out there) haven’t stumbled across this gem, as it finds the perfect middle ground between the two artists to highlight and implement. The producers do more than mash-up beats with vocals, instead manipulating both Drake and Blake’s material to create a cohesive album that highlights the similar themes of isolation, loss, and unsureness that is present in both artist’s songs.
This is one of those albums that is better listened to than talked about, so enjoy one of the last great mash-up albums.
- Ghost Beach – Been There Before
It feels like everyone and their mother is trying to capture that 80’s sound and repackage it with some sort of a modern twist. It’s gotten to the point that I’m shocked when a synth-pop band doesn’t make a song that isn’t blatantly reminiscent of a song released 25 years prior. Having said that, Ghost Beach shocked me. Sure, they stem from the same keyboard-laden influences that their peers do, but they add such a refreshing spin to it that it almost sounds like a new style altogether; their raw vocals are in stark contrast to what you might expect when hearing the sugary yet slick music backing them. With “Been There Before”, they strung together a bouncy, at times even funky, song whose verses pulse along to anthemic choruses.
Even though their marketing material is quick to make boring allusions to Depeche Mode and Daft Punk and almost as quick to sling around terms like “glittery”, “tropical”, “grit pop” and “fun factor”, that sort of self-awareness (whether accurate or not) almost detracts from the entertaining (I refuse to use the word “fun” now), tight style of rock that Josh Ocean and Eric “Doc” Mendelsohn have honed and are close to mastering. I was lucky enough to catch the end of their set at BYT and All Things Go’s co-hosted Apocalypse party, and I assure you that while the production on this album is fantastic, their live set is just as enjoyable, allowing the energetic highs to reach higher and the blown-out lows to sprawl farther. I expect there to be no way to not hear more about them in 2013.