Thursday, May 28, 2009

Paper Trail

Band: T.I.
Album: Paper Trail
Best song: "Live Your Life" and "Swagga Like Us" are great. The song with Ludacris, "On Top of the World" is pretty good. "Whatever You Like" is nice.
Worst song: "Every Chance I Get" isn't good.

Let me get the non-political stuff out the way before I get into the meat of my opinion of Paper Trail. First, I will always love T.I. as a lyricist, if only for "Rubberband Man." In the song, T.I. calls himself "Wild as the Taliban" (by the way, this was 2003, when terrorism was much scarier than it is now) and then says, hello, that he's "worth a couple hundred grand." A rapper that doesn't fancy himself a millionaire? Sign me up.

Similarly, "Swagga Like Us" is a real winner. Of course, Kanye West's mediocre verse is forgiven because of his stellar production, using an M.I.A. sample to drive a star-studded song. Lil Wayne's verse is, not surprisingly, the best, but T.I.'s song ender is nice.

"Live Your Life," Paper Trail's third single is the example of why Paper Trail bugs me. It's a marvelous hook, taking a sample from Moldovan group O-Zone's "Dragostea din tei," with the unmeasurably talented (and attractive) Rihanna chirping over said hook. The video is stylized and cool, with shots of the Los Angeles river.

But, the lyrics... T.I. acting high and mighty is not a thing that fits him well. Telling someone that "Your values is a disarray, prioritizing horribly" is not a powerful statement from someone who was sentenced to 366 days for, essentially, having an illegal arsenal.

And that's my problem with T.I. I'm not someone who thinks all American laws are perfect or that civil disobedience is bad. But, too much of Paper Trail has T.I. defending himself with the "walk in my shoes" notion.

I disagree. I don't need to walk in your shoes to know that having that many guns is bad. Or that buying guns illegally is bad.

Look, I'm not saying that T.I shouldn't have guns. Yes, his life is different than mine and we do live in a world which crazy men exist and I'm sure many of them want T.I.'s money. And, hey, the second amendment exists.

But, again, T.I. can have many, many legal guns to protect himself. It's not a tough law to figure out.

So, when he does the following in the breakdown of "Ready for Whatever" ... Bad times.

i mean look at folk like sean taylor
you know what they said they said had he had a strap
he woulda lived today
you know what im sayin
now true enough i was dead wrong i broke the law
i deserve to be punished i understand that's right cool
but listen man i gotta house full of kids
a mama and an old lady who life in my
responsibility you dig that!?

Um, yeah. It's not as though Sean Taylor needed an illegal gun.

Look, prison sounds like it fucking sucks. And there are plenty of laws out there that are unfair -- I'm thinking drug laws mainly. But, you did something dangerous and wrong, T.I. You have to face it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sunny Day Real Estate

Band: Sunny Day Real Estate
Album: Sunny Day Real Estate (Sub Pop distributed the album as LP2 and it is also known colloquially as "The Pink Album," for obvious reasons.)
Best song: "Red Elephant," "8" and "J'nuh" are all brilliant. "Iscarabaid" is wonderful.
Worst song: None.

Elaine, breaking up is like knocking over a coke machine. You can’t do it in one push, you got to rock it back and forth a few times, and then it goes over.

Jerry Seinfeld in "The Voice," a season 9 episode of his show, Seinfeld.

As in relationships, so go bands. Sunny Day Real Estate was a band of some import -- they basically defined the second wave of emo, along with Braid. After releasing two stellar albums, the band initially broke up in late 1995/early 1996 (the timing of it all is still a little touch and go), only to reform in 1997 and record two more albums. SDRE then broke up again in 2001, with three of the members forming The Fire Theft and releasing an album and in EP across 2003 and 2004. The hot rumor now is that the four gentlemen are going to reunite once again in 2009.

I would say the breakup/reunite cycle is getting kind of tired, but once you love something/someone, it's tough to let go. The notion that a successful band, adored by many, should pursue other interests when reuniting would bring joy to a lot of fans and introduce young people to said music... That's foolish.

Rock bands and professional athletes overstay their welcome all too often. Bob Dylan has been making shitty records for 25 years. Pink Floyd released post-Roger Waters records and they were absolute turds. Art is hard. It's painful and difficult to keep up the ability to dig deep to find it within an artist.

The SDRE guys made three wonderful albums, an OK fourth one and then made the Fire Theft record. Nate Mendel continues to record -- if Dave Grohl actually lets people other than himself play down tracks, which I doubt, considering the Will Goldsmith incident -- with the Foo Fighters. Goldsmith has spent time touring with various singers and bands (Mike Watt, 5ive Style, etc.). Jeremy Enigk has released three solo albums, the latest of which came out this week. He also tours. Dan Horner lives on a farm somewhere.

Getting back together makes a lot of sense, I'd say.


Pitchfork recently described Broken Social Scene as " grand instrumental swells, mumbly singing, and all things guitar-y and heart-wrenching and heart-on-sleeve." Reading that sentence actually made me think about writing up LP2. SDRE is a band that predates BSS by seven years and sound very little alike. Indeed, Enigk's vocals aren't nearly as muddled and Sunny Day's rhythmic structure is considerably faster-paced. Nevertheless, it reminded me of this all-important band of my high school years.

The indie rock landscape -- as I remember it, so this is all through the eyes of a high schooler -- of the 1990s was eclectic and interesting. Kurt Cobain and friends had made Sub Pop a national force and the label foisted bands like SDRE onto those of us in the Midwest. Taking the fast-paced sound of first wave emo, hardcore and punk, the band mixed it with a an earnest vocal style to largely create second-wave emo. Along with Jawbreaker -- called the "Rosetta Stone of emo" -- SDRE helped popularize the genre in the landscape of post-grunge, Pavement and post-rock that was CMJ in the mid-1990s.

Indeed, SDRE's confessional -- albeit very veiled -- lyrics are entirely hummable and melodic. Make no mistake, LP2 is not as strong a record as the band's furious-yet-tender debut. Nevertheless, LP2 has more earnestness than you can shake a stick at. "J'Nuh" is lush and decidedly emotional, taking the swirling guitar and building it up onto a heavy riff. Enigk -- again in the poetic and nonsensical way only he can made effective -- channels his emo rage in the song, with hook-worthy "I'm too, well I'm to late now/Call me something at all this time" as the song falls into staccato-guitar lines.

And that's the album. Different song styles dot the record, all fitting into the Sunny Day formula. "Friday" opens with an appegio that quickly becomes guitar streaks and Enigk platitudes ("Colliding on old photographs" is a key lyric), "8" -- featured in a crappy non-Burton or non-Nolan Batman movie. You know. The one with "Kiss by a Rose." That one. -- takes quietLOUDquiet, replaces metronomic drumming with around-the-kit showcasing and perfects it. "Iscarabaid" sometimes hits the harder post-hardcore notes, but again showcases Goldsmith's ability to carry a song. Only the chorus' self-confessional ("Inside of me/Outside of you" begins each chorus) does the overdrive occur and it is short-lived.

Each song has a confusing lyric. Each song has a guitar line that weaves around like a bird flying deftly around trees. Each song has a drum part that can -- and often does -- carry the song. Q.E.D.

So, yes, SDRE has a formula. It's such an effective formula, though, that every time I pick up LP2, I find a new favorite song. "Red Elephant" -- with it's midtempo awesomeness and romantic, but really weird "Well I'd suspect/You would come to terms/With my hand/My eyes reflect your surface very well" oddball lyric -- remains my faovirte, but rediscovering "5/4" and its time signature or "8" and its rapidity or "J'Nuh" and its lyrical brilliance... That's very satisfying.


"J'Nuh" live:


I'm not sure where to put this, as it mainly concerns the bands post-first-reunion album, How It Feels To Be Something On and it's religious lyrics. However, one of the often-cited factors in SDRE's breakup is Enigk's religious, uh, awakening. Enigk found Christ during the final stages of recording LP2 and the hot rumor is that it helped break up the band.

Anyway, here's Enigk's letter to the fans about his conversion or his rebirth or whatever. It's worth a read if you're into old marketing books written by first-century Jews, paradise in the sky, so-called miracles and a teacher-then-zombie. Me? I worship the sun.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Give Up

Band: The Postal Service
Album: Give Up
Best song: "Brand New Colony" and "Such Great Heights" are great.
Worst song: "Recycled Air" isn't great.

This month is one of anniversaries for me. In sadness, it's May is used to recount tremendous emptiness that comes with losing someone you love. In happiness, it's the month of Mother's Day, a close friend's birthday and my graduation from college and graduate school.

Indeed, were I to walk, the American University's commencement is this upcoming Saturday, May 9. I'm not going to walk in the commencement ceremony for many reasons, but I've yet to really bring them all together in my head.

No question, the notion of finishing graduate school is something of which to be proud. I am proud of my time in American University's School of Communication. It was part-time -- Saturdays for 20 months -- and those six-day weeks were not fun. I met some good friends -- hi, Jen! -- and made some small networking connections.

I'm not one for birthdays, largely because they represent something I can't really enjoy: the celebration of one person. At their heart, birthday celebrations aren't something with which I disagree. Indeed, everyone should have their day and be able to have friends celebrate. A recent birthday in which I was a part was amazing. The featured person adored it and had a wonderful time.

Nonetheless, I have trouble with my own birthday -- it's in February -- largely because "not dying" (for a period of 365) does not constitute something of celebration.

Anyway, the notion of my gaining my Master's is something of pride for me. I've been working a full-time job for the entirety of the program and was working on my RS albums project for the first year of it. And, indeed, like the RS project, I'm really proud I finished my graduate degree. I'd like to have my friends come over and hang out with me, just to say "congrats."

But, a few factors have me not walking. The first is that I don't want to deal with the out-of-town people coming in to see me walk. It's unlikely that my sister would come in from San Diego. And it's sorta unlikely that my dad would come in from Chicago. My mom desperately wanted me to walk, but I didn't want to deal with having people in town.

Moreover, the ceremony is three hours long and I'd have to rent a cap and gown at a cost of $85. I'd rather get my car fixed Saturday and play wiffle ball with my friends than sit in an uncomfortable robe in May D.C. heat.

Also, I'm disappointed in American University for a number of reasons that do not need recounting here. I loved a lot of my professors in thsi program and was happy with a lot of aspects of the program, but other things left me wanting.


I have no record of my review of the Postal Service album; it was written and never saved onto my newer computers. It was long and it dealth with many of the same issues I've run over in writing about other Ben Gibbard works.

The review was one of my final ones for KCOU as the album came out the second semsester of my senior year of college. I mostly mentioned the notion of Gibbard and his place in music going forward. It mostly talked about the direction of emo.

I'm struggling to describe it here. I really wish I had a copy of that review.


I've recently joked that I want my friends to call me "Master" from now on, especially if/when someone asks me about journalism. Indeed, I have now "mastered" the subject, despite being mostly a peaon at a niche Web site written for Federal employees.

Ultimately, I'm not sure I know what having a Master's does for me. I'm not in the business field; a new degree does little for me both monetarily and respect-wise. I guess I could get a job teaching journalism part-time somewhere. Where, I don't know. Basically, I've read some books and written some papers. I've given American University almost $40,000. I spent two years of my life worrying -- albeit not that much -- about school I didn't need to attend.

Overall, I'm glad I talked about and learned about my craft. Journalism, as it is, is going extinct and I'm OK with that. There's an inherent middle-man quality to journalism. With the Internet, there's now little need for newspapers to recap what happened yesterday. TV and newspapers will be a space for commentary and partisan hackery.

Neverthless, I'm someone who knows something about media now, for better or for worse. I can tell you all about media myths and research strategies and the principles of journalism, as to the notion of Kovach and Rosensteil.

I guess that's the notion of education somtimes. My actual knowledge of these things isn't necessarily useful; it simply expands my own thinking into something more. I know about a couple of things -- baseball and the humor of 30 Rock come to mind -- but I don't know a ton about journalism. Everyone sort of does and I just hope that I've learned something in these past two years.


I don't want to reiterate everything I've already written about Gibbard and the nature of his writing. But, it's there. Gibbard's poeticism lies in his ability to touch the teenage hearts of adults like myself. Hey, why not. I'll quote myself:

Gibbard's writing defines this. His lovelorn and simple lyrics hardly have the tone of McCartney, Lennon or fellow Washingtonian Cobain but rather read like overwrought prose, albeit pleasant and relatable overwrought prose. Side project The Postal Service was a an exercise in such lyrics (Sample 1: "I want so badly to believe that there is truth and love is real." Sample 2: "I am thinking it's a sign. That the freckles in our eyes. Are mirror images and when we kiss they're perfectly aligned.") and his Death Cab work -- while more nuanced -- relies on similar emotive responses.

And the Postal Service record is, basically, Gibbard's adolescent romanticism boiled down to its core. "Brand New Colony" is decidedly teenage; nuance isn't really part of the song. The song's main character simply knows that he is in love and that he's going to create a place wherein he and his girlfriend can live. It's "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" for a new generation.

And Jimmy Tamborello helms the production in a way that highlights the futuristic sound of the record. The album's charisma is undeniable; Tamborello and Gibbard work catchy hooks into nearly every song. It's no surprise that many of the songs have ended up on TV shows and commercials.

There are tinges of the strange on the record. "We Will Become Silhouettes" has lyrics that echo a post-apocalyptic world. "Recycled Air" recounts a fear of flying with apt lyricism. "This Place Is A Prison" sort of describes hipster bars as death and "Sleeping In" has a tough string of references, including the Kennedy assassination and global warming.

But, overwhelmingly, the album is about love. "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" is a tale of breakups and mobile young adults. "Clark Gable" is the break song couched in the beauty of film. "Brand New Colony," as mentioned, speaks of starting the new colony of puppy love. "Such Great Heights" has the inconic tale of mirror-imaged lovers.

"Brand New Colony" is probably the album's best song, though. Enlisting Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis to duet with Gibbard, the song recounts a one-sided breakup, as Gibbard fights to keep a relationship alive. The song's is nuanced and true; as realistic as Lily Allen's "Who'd Have Known" but far sadder. The song's uneven perspectives -- Allen says Gibbard is making shit up, Gibbard is pouring his heart out -- hit far too close to home to someone like myself. Gibbard won't let go, but Lewis has the last word, as if often happens in relationships. It's aching and final, as many relationships are.