Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Not Me, It's You

Band: Lily Allen
Album: It's Not Me, It's You
Best song: "Not Fair" is easily the best song written about premature ejaculation. "Who'd Have Known" is among the best love songs, largely on the back of its sweetness and honesty.
Worst song: "He Wasn't There" isn't great.

Lily Allen is a odd artist to follow. Her honesty -- both in her blog and in televised interviews -- is refreshing. She often makes a complete ass of herself, but she clearly has a strong sense of humor about herself, which is something to be admired.

(Her entire being, like many people online celebrity and non-celebrity, is worthy of a discussion of one's created identity v. one's actual identity. The Internet means one can create themselves, essentially, as a brand in a completely unique way. Social networking sites -- and their confluence of, essentially, personal definition pages wherein one can create his or her entire being even down to "top five pizza toppings" -- back this up, and Allen's rise is largely owed to MySpace, the first megapopular social networking sites. But, alas, this is a story for another day.)

Like nearly anyone of her age and upbringing -- her first record was released when she was 20 and It's Not Me, It's You when she was 23 -- Allen falls somewhere between attention whore and "leave me alone" young person. Allen comes from mildly famous British people (film producer mother and comedian/writer father. Joe Strummer was a close family friend.) and an affluent upbringing. In short, her early life appears to be something of a socialite-lite situation. Allen never didn't have people listening.

And the songs on this, her second record, follow. "Fuck You" is the headline-grabber, as it's a Bush/Blair-basher of a song, hitting all the obvious gutter punk political memes (Bush is a racist and a homophobe. He's dumb. He starts wars.) with and without merit. It uses the all-too-obvious juxtaposition toy piano sound to create mild humor (indeed, the piano sounds far too much like the theme song from Crank Yankers). "Never Gonna Happen" is a rejection song with a similarly upbeat, circusy style. Indeed, Allen's great strength is her humor and she sometimes overuses it.

And this humor hits more than it misses, certainly. "Him" is an atheist's theme song, mocking God -- well, in my mind, as I'm not a CCR fan -- by saying "his favorite band is Creedence Clearwater Revival." The self-reflection is evident within said humor, as "22 examines Allen's searches for meaning and the boredom within her life. "Everyone's At It" examines the same large scale societal problems, albeit with a far better backbeat.

Indeed, Allen is at her best when she acknowledges the complexity of her world. First single "The Fear" lambasts the socialite/celebutante lifstyle, saying "I want to be rich and I want lots of money/ I don't care about clever, I don't care about funny." It's easy to see this as a straight mock, but remember that Allen is someone who bragged to the New York Times that she'd spent about 100,000 pounds (almost $150,000) on clothes last year. Indeed, the video is opulent and fun.

Similarly, second single "Not Fair" is easily the most clever song about premature ejaculation I've ever heard. Wrapped around a country riff and banjo-picked craziness, the pre-chorus is brilliant in its bluntness:

There's just one thing that's getting in the way.
When we go up to bed, you're just not good. It's such a shame.
I look into your eyes, I want to get to know you.
And then you make this noise and its apparent it's all over.

While Allen says that all her man does is take and can "never make me scream," she even suggests that she can "remember all the nice things that you've ever said to me" and that maybe she's "just overreacting, maybe you're the one for me." Certainly, the sarcasm makes the song more powerful (as does the reference to wet spots and blow jobs), but it remains a conundrum, as Allen curses her bad fortune. After all, it's not fair.

Also, the video is wonderful. In what appears to be an homage to Linda Rondstadt, Allen stages herself on the Porter Wagoner show in a flaired pantsuit, all 70s-ed out in bangs and a plunging neckline:

The album's highlight, "Who'd Have Known," is a tight, harpsichord-driven love song about the early stages in a relationship wherein it has "just the right amount of awkard." The "you accidentally called me 'Baby'" line works for anyone who's been in that situation -- like, say, when someone you're 'dating' by accident references her 'boyfriend,' despite her inability to use the term. Similarly, the questioning of Allen's -- assuming she's the song's protagonist -- need to be alone, but her surprise with her newfound coupling, saying "I'd no longer feel alone" when "you flash upon my phone."

Some of the greatest love songs are those which present a real experience in a convincing way. Often, these songs are sad like the Postal Service's "Nothing Better" (or Elliott Smith's classic "Say Yes") or they're overarching like the Harrison-penned Beatles classic "Something." But, "Who'd Have Known" presents a singular experience at the beginning of a relationship that is difficult to recreate, but one that is to be cherished. It's the unknown and the endless possibilities of puppy love.


Like Chan Marshall and Tara Jane O'Neil, I love Lily Allen's voice. I'd listen to any of the three of them read a grocery list. Allen's accent is ridiculously sexy and her pitch falls above the classic breathy woman-voice of the aforementioned ladies, but remains perfect for her songs. Full of energy, Allen's voice can juggle phrasings and rapid-fire syllables as well as any.

Her Internet presence is a nice sideshow, but, ultimately, Allen is a talented musician with an excellent wit.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Drought Is Over 7

Band: Lil Wayne
Album: The Drought is Over 7
Best song: "Maybach Music" -- though far too short -- is as good as the decent songs on Tha Carter III and "Thinking to Myself" is really good. "In the Morning" isn't bad. "I'm a Monster" is probably the most fully-formed song.
Worst song: "Trouble" isn't great.

So, I really wanted to make this piece something about the nature of mixtapes and make some comments about how much I love Lil Wayne -- he's the first artist to be written up twice on this site (Though, Death Cab has made two appearances across my sites). Indeed, there's a place for that, and I imagine when Wayne farts out another mixtape I like, I'll write something about Wayne's model of promotion and how it relates to blogs.

But, because I have a paper that needs to be written for (g)raduate school, I'll steal an idea from friend of the site Bradford Pearson, the 13-word review. Here's my first 13-word album review:

Mostly forgettable rhymes with little autotune, but possibly the greatest album cover ever.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Middle Cyclone

Band: Neko Case
Album: Middle Cyclone
Best song: "People Got a Lotta Nerve" is the first single and is pretty great. "I'm an Animal" is the best song on the album.
Worst song: The Harry Nilsson cover "Don't Forget Me" isn't great.

The hardest thing about depression is that it is just that: a dip, a valley. In a lot of cases, that thing is something that you really can't traverse.

It's oppressive, the powerlessness. The little knowledge I have about biology and the brain is such that depressives -- for what it's worth, I've never been diagnosed to be bipolar, or even depressed enough to warrant medication, as I've rejected such drugs when offered in the past -- and their sense of powerlessness is a biological phenomenom. It's a chemical thing and one that gets imprinted on the brain.

And the fucked up thing with the brain is that we can change its biological function not just through things like drugs, but also through, you know. Our brains. Our habits. The things we do. Thoughts. Brain functions.

The grand example is exercise. The overwhelming scholarly work suggests that exercise can be very effective in helping depression. Just about every study done has shown that exercise helps one's mindset. Sleep helps. Eating well. That sort of thing.

I know it can't just be me, but whenever I get into a certain -- bad, mostly -- routine, it just keeps building on itself. And that makes it tremendously difficult to break.


I haven't slept consistently well in years.

The main reason for this is the (platonic) love of my life, my bulldog. He's very needy and wakes me up several times each night. I wear earplugs and I put on music to try and do various other things to try and get some sleep. This is not effective, as I find myself waking up to a whining/crying, 55-lb. monster with the most beautiful ugly face anyone has ever seen.

It's easy to forget how much a good night's sleep affects you when you never sleep well. I had two good-excellent nights of sleep over the weekend and coming back to crappy sleeping is like night and day. And drugged sleep isn't always a huge help; I took sleeping pills (over the counter ones, but sleeping pills nonetheless) last night and woke up this morning in a malaise I can't seem to shake. It's affecting the entire of my being today, and that feeling has been part of things for a while.


And maybe it's my own issue, but one of the grand conundrums about feeling crappy is the lack of a correct response, other than to listen. On the whole, whatever thing is getting me depressed is minimal (well, save for one thing) compared to almost everyone else's problems.

I'm in a money hole because of my own fiscal irresponsibility, but also because I'm about to finish my Master's. Big whoop, you have tons of friends in law school and their debt is several times as big as yours. Plus, they're actually smart with their money. I don't sleep. Big whoop, your mother's an actual insomniac and has more serious heart problems, to boot. My car is fucked up and I don't have time to fix it. No one is forcing you to have a car, bucko. You live less than a mile away from a Metro station. You can walk. I'm gaining weight. Who is forcing you not to exercise? No one but you, pal.

Certainly, no one really gives me those speeches. People are generally sympathetic, offering well-wishes, sympathy or empathy ("here's a story about how I once felt like that," "I'm really sorry" or "Good luck feeling better."). And that's not what I want. I don't know if I want the "fuck you and your non-problems" speech, but I know the sympathy doesn't help. Nothing really does, I guess.

And that's the disconnect. I don't deserve sympathy because the problems I have are all self-generated. People shouldn't feel sorry for me because I don't have discipline. At the risk of sounding like a stereotype, I'm weak. I need to be better.


But it gets back to my original point. I feel the way I do and I can't really get out of it. I didn't want tog et out of bed this morning. I didn't want to do anything. I knew I needed to exercise. I knew I needed to make my lunch. I knew I needed to do some cleaning of my apartment, which still looks like it was firebombed by dirty clothes and papers.

I did none of these things. This is the nature of being down.


I'm being melodramatic for no worthwhile reason. I feel like crap because I've made mistakes and the effect of those mistakes is reminding me of those mistakes. For this piece, I wanted to get a short (Short? Ha!) description of how I was feeling in order to apologize for the crappiness and late timing of this piece. In short, I'd meant to write this last week, before I went to see Case live. Or the week before. But, every time I opened up my computer to write it, I just couldn't do it.

I bought Neko Case's latest album on the day it came out for my girlfriend's birthday and she loved the album. I didn't hear until I bought it for myself some two weeks later (well, my girlfriend played me bits and pieces at various times). It's understandable, as Case is a gifted songwriter who has worked with some wonderful people in her career. her work with the New Pornographers is among the band's best.

(and here's where I get a little sexist, making good on the promise that any reader will have absolutely no sympathy for me) Case is a certain type of indie rock persona, the "hot chick with a kickass voice." I'd suggest she's like Feist or Joanna Newsom in that case, but I find neither of those two artists to be particularly attractive. Case isn't homely like Feist is, but she's certainly not a model. Then again, I've had a huge thing for Elizabeth Elmore for as long as I can remember. So, what do I know?

Outside of that, I've never been the world's biggest fan of Ms. Case, as her music deals mostly in a genre (country, or, more specifically, alt-country) I don't really appreciate as much as I probably should. The title track, a wonderful mid-tempo confessional, is a grand example of this. It's a gorgeous song, with a full Case vocal, but it ultimately falls too far afield into folk country for me to truly appreciate it.

That's not to say that I don't love the album. I do. It's a marvelous work, both confessional and declaratory (see the album cover). Case's strong presence is announced in every song, with a mid-rhythm stumble in "Fever" to the chant of "I'm a man, man, man, man, maneater" in "People Got a Lotta Nerve" to her blast that she's an animal on "I'm an Animal."

The story of the album's recording is available via our good friend Wikipedia, so I won't recount it here (check it out, though, as it involved some interesting bits about pianos and Craiglist). Nevertheless, Case remains a wildly interesting figure, a talented songwriter and a fine singer. Middle Cyclone is her best album yet and in the running for best album of 2009.


For shits and giggles, here's the e-press kit for the album:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cover Up

Band: Ministry
Album: Cover Up
Best song: Obviously, "Supernaut" is a classic. Ministry's version of "Radar Love" makes it far more listenable.
Worst song: "What a Wonderful World" is decidedly less than wonderful.

I'm glad Ministry is gone.

I love fellow Trevian Al Jourgensen's contributions to music, but he'd gone too far afield. His final three albums were simply Bush-bashing nonsense and his song for our beloved Blackhawks is an affront to anyone with ears. As he slinked off into the night last year, it was a sad epitaph to a great career.

Nevertheless, Jourgensen busted out some friends and put out a covers record. Certainly, covers records aren't that creative -- covers are other artists' work, after all. Cat Power's The Covers Record and Jukebox were met with some acclaim (well, The Covers Record was) and I, personally, always enjoy a good covers record. Indeed, a good artist takes a song and makes it his or her own. For an example, see Devo's "Satisfcation."

Jourgensen does this. Ministry's sound is absolutely distinct, from "Just One Fix " to "N.W.O." to "Jesus Built My Hot Rod" to the now infamous -- and included on this set -- version of the Black Sabbath classic "Supernaut." Punishing drums, heavy guitar and a wildly distorted vocal track make for the Ministry sound.

Pitchfork's Cosmo Lee called Cover Up "the afterparty for Ministry's career," which is strikingly fitting. Jourgensen's band has gone through a million different phases, but a strikingly short peak (in the early 1990s) and a taste for heroin led the band to continue to be cited in regards to all things industrial rock.

As usual, Jourgensen recruited a host of singers and collaborators -- the album artist is actually listed as "Ministry and Co Conspirators -- from various hard rock bands. Leadbelly's "Black Betty" -- made most famous by Ram Jam -- gets Jourgensen's vocals, but Amen's Casey Chaos hits the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," Fear Factory's Burton Bell does the Stones' "Under My Thumb," Prong's Thomas M. Victor hits Deep Purple's "Space Truckin" and Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" and Golden Earring's "Radar Love" and "Bang a Gong" get Josh Bradford of the Revolting Cocks.

Despite all the singers, the sound is decidedly Ministry. The samples remain, the sound of metal clangs against itself, the guitars punish and the drums sound like a machine gun. Overall, it's delightfully Ministry, despite the familiar melodies (from other bands, of course).