Portastatic – “I Wanna Know Girls”

61FQD3HJX6L

Album: Bright Ideas

Released: 2005

Label: Merge

Mac McCaughan is the singer/guitarist/leader of Superchunk and several other side-projects, including Portastatic. The band’s 5th album, 2005’s Bright Ideas, was released on McCaughan’s own Merge label and it’s the only Portastatic album that I’m familiar with, but once you’ve heard one McCaughan song you’ve heard them all. This is not a complaint – there’s something honorable about being so consistent in rock music, especially when you’ve been playing music for over 20 years across several bands. Few songwriters can use a guitar to come up with great riffs and melodies album after album across decades. Many of his songs sound the same, but they’re all pretty good to really great.

“I Wanna Know Girls” might be McCaughan’s best song, with Portastatic or any of his other bands, including Superchunk.

Because this is a McCaughan song, you can already guess at its sound – driving melodic guitars, not too distorted but plenty loud, his signature slacker everyman voice, the never flashy push of the drums and bass, etc. This is a no-fuss rock song if there ever was one. However, what makes this song so special is that it’s such an affectionate and positive love song, which is something I don’t hear much in rock music. It’s McCaughan celebrating women and trying to find the right one (“I wanna know girls, but only love one”). There’s no sense of anger or isolation towards love – it’s just a positive jam looking on the bright side of life.

Why is it so rare to find good songs that don’t channel anger in relation to love? Most of my favorite songs are about heartbreak and isolation, and any song I think is “positive” isn’t usually considered “good”. Jimmy Eats World and Nada Surf are two exceptions that come to mind, but other than that I keep these rare positive jams whenever I find them.

That’s the next revival I want – Superchunk-Positive-Vibes-Core. Make it happen Brooklyn.

The rest of Bright Ideas is just as pleasant as this song, and, if you don’t think too hard, it sounds just like late-career Superchunk.

GENTLE LOVE – “Singing Emotions”

prescription-for-sleep-game-music-lullabies.jpg.500

Album: Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies

Release: 2014

Label: Scarlet Moon Records

When I moved to New York this summer I already had a few songs picked out for my days and nights living in the city. I actually had a full playlist ready to go. These were overly romantic songs which, in my head, would be the songs that I would listen to while walking through the streets of Manhattan or sitting by a window and quietly observing the tall buildings and fancy New Yorkers surrounding me. Norah Jones, Belle & Sebastian, Simon & Garfunkel, early Bob Dylan, Velvet Underground, and more. If this sounds like Kid Moves From The Midwest To New York City And Golly Look At All The Bright Lights, then you’re right.

However, I just heard a song that trumps any Norah Jones or Belle & Sebastian – and it’s a song from the video game Chrono Cross! It’s actually a jazzy-reinterpretation of one of game’s songs, “Singing Emotions”, but I wouldn’t think twice if it was in a Woody Allen movie. Since Woody Allen movies are the reason why many people move from the midwest to New York, this song fits right in.

The song was originally composed by Yasunori Mitsuda for the 1999 Playstation game, yet in the hands of GENTLE LOVE (AYAKI on piano, Norihiko Hibino on saxophone, and Naoko Sato on percussion) this song could now replace Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” in the opening credits of Manhattan.

The rest of this album is also worth checking out – Prescription for Sleep includes jazz reinterpretations of songs from classic video games such as Super Mario 64, multiple Final Fantasy and Elder Scrolls games, Donkey Kong Country, and many more. This year another album in the series came out and it includes more video game music as cool jazz. Check it out and enjoy.

Listen to the original version below:

Broadcast – ‘The Noise Made By People’

the-noise-made-by-people

Release: 2000

Label: Warp Records (UK) / Tommy Boy Records (US)

I hear Deerhoof. I hear every UK 60s throwback band trying to make it in the United States. I hear Yo La Tengo. I hear Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner. I hear a hip French band soundtracking a new noir film about an abduction and/or damsel in distress. I hear “indie”, back when “indie” actually meant something. I hear Kid A a few months before Kid A was released. I hear an alternative future in which we all became cyborgs and this is what we’re all listening to on the jukebox.

Broadcast, from Birmingham, England, had been around since 1995, but The Noise Made By People, their official debut, was released in 2000. They were signed to Warp, yet they were the least electronic act on the label. This was pop music envisioned for the future, which in 2000 sounded like Aphex Twin taking over the Beatles or the Replacements in terms of influence.

Lead singer Trish Keenan sounds detached and cold, like a futuristic Nico who sounds too cool to sing simple pop songs, yet the two highlights, “Come On Let’s Go” and “Echo’s Answer” keeps Keenan at her most open and potentially vulnerable. Sometimes she even sounds like a robot (“You Can Fall”), but mostly Keenan sounds like someone who has time-traveled from the future and and is unimpressed with our primitive songwriting. If she’s a robot, then it must be irony that this album is called The Noise Made By People.

15 years later and this album hasn’t lost any of its cool. Maybe this will be the soundtrack of the future?

“Come On Let’s Go”

“Echo’s Answer”

Musicians And Their Favorite Books: Izzy True – “The Spring Tune” by Tove Jansson

12176288_1494209997541554_1560799988_o

(Photo: Isabel Reidy)

Welcome to ‘Musicians And Their Favorite Books’. Once a month, a musician writes about one of their favorite books and how it influences their work.

Izzy True is a musician and cartoonist living in Trumansburg, NY. She plays music about her comics with her brother Silas Reidy and her friends Angela DeVivo and Jon Samuels. Izzy True’s debut release Troll EP is out now on Don Giovanni Records.

The following piece is in Izzy’s own words:

*

“The Spring Tune” – Tove Jansson

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a song last. Typically I listen to music in the same sweaty, desperate way I do pretty much everything else. I love songs briefly and intensely – something about it will catch me and I’ll have to listen to it over and over and over until the fever breaks and I’m done with it. I listened to Steely Dan’s “Peg” about 300 times over the course of a single week this Summer (my brother, who was stuck in a car with me at the time, was not stoked about this.)

Then there are those other songs, the ones that I will probably listen to my whole life. These songs don’t get hollow and stale with repetition, but instead reveal more of themselves each time I hear them. It’s a tricky business trying to nail down exactly what qualities makes a song stick in that way.

Moomin Characters(tm)

(Photo: Moomin Characters)

Whenever I try to put my finger on it “The Spring Tune”, a short story from Tove Jansson’s Tales From Moominvalley, invariably comes to mind. It’s about a wandering musician named Snufkin and the night his song writing is interrupted by a lonesome, pathetic Creep. In addition to containing the single best description of what it’s like to write a song I’ve ever read, “The Spring Tune” has a beautiful passage about the song that Snufkin was working on:

“‘It’s the right evening for a tune.’ Snufkin thought. A new tune, one part expectation, two parts spring sadness, and for the rest just the great delight of walking alone and liking it.”

I think that’s what makes a song last, more or less. A little bit of that soft, underlying melancholy that you can never quite shake, a nod to loneliness, and a joke about the whole thing. Because, ya know, who are you, anyway, and who really cares? Sometimes you need big, wild songs for big, wild feelings, but I think the songs about the quiet pauses in between those feelings have the most longevity for me.

Cameron Pollack

(Photo: Cameron Pollack)

I grew up reading Moomintroll. For anyone unfamiliar, they are Finnish children’s books about a family of weird creatures who live by the sea. The stories are wHiMsY rIcH and funny, but also deeply sad. All of the characters seem to be a bit lonely in one way or another, and their adventures take place as much in the strange world they inhabit as they do in their sort of sad experiences of each other.

I’ve reread them a few times now that I’m older and am always shocked at their depth. I wonder how much of that stuff I was able to pick up on as a kid, I can’t really remember much more than the fact that I loved the books. However much of it I grasped back then, Moomintroll had a lasting effect on me.

These days when I write a song or make a comic, I’m always hoping to catch that ~Moominvalley vibe~… that Jonathan Richman “Summer Feeling”.

*

You can find Izzy True via:

Don Giovanni

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

My Favorite Books (For Your Consideration)

tumblr_mqq690BA5A1r7itg8o1_500GIFs by Earwolf

Here are some of my favorite books that I’ve read over the years and would recommend to all you nice people. Listed alphabetically by author.

As I read more books I’ll update the list here.

Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This might be the greatest book ever written. It’s easy to read, funny as hell, and full of insight and, more importantly, hope. Don’t panic.

Syd Field – Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

This is a good introduction to screenwriting, but for non-movie people this is also a great resource for understanding story structure and writing clearly.

James Joyce – Ulysses

The most pretentious book that’s actually worth reading. Here’s another reason why you should read it.

Stephen King – On Writing

Possibly the best book on how to write well, if not the most accessible. You don’t have to be a King fan to enjoy good advice. Also check out Elements of Style and Several Short Sentences About Writing.

Austin Kleon – Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

A self-described manifesto for creativity in the digital age. It’s so easy to read, you can show this to your parents and they’ll want to start writing a novel. Also check out Show Your Work.

Leil Lowndes – How To Talk To Anyone

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People for the 21st century.

Henry Miller – Tropic of Cancer

It’s not for everyone, but this is the book that inspired me to become a writer. There would be no Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, or Beat movement without this book.

Ramit Sethi – I Will Teach You To Be Rich

This isn’t the only personal finance book that you should read, but it’s a great introduction for anyone who isn’t sure where to start learning about managing their own money, investing, or saving for retirement (which you should start doing right now).

Any Shakespeare

The Reduced Shakespeare Company is a good place to start.

Patti Smith – Just Kids

Read this before you jump on that train to New York City to pursuit your dreams, because once upon a time she was just like you.

John Steinbeck – East of Eden

Forget Grapes of Wrath, this is his best book.

Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace

Because what else is there?

Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse Five

This is the classic novel from my favorite writer. My personal favorite Vonnegut is God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, but this is where you should start. So it goes.

Andy Warhol – The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)

Part autobiography, part meditation on the pop culture that he helped popularized, Warhol is as ironic and detached as you’d expect in this 1975 book. However, what makes this book worth reading is that he’s surprisingly open about his hopes and fears and what role he believes art plays in life (hint: art is useless).

Malcolm X – The Autobiography of Malcolm X

A powerful and often painful look at race in America. This is Malcolm’s life, but Alex Haley’s brilliant ghostwriting elevates his story to required reading.

The Dhammapada, The Bhagavad Gita, The Quran, The Bible, and other religious text

Whether you believe it or not, it’s important to understand what each religion stands for, and you might actually learn a thing or two.

The Communist Manifesto, The Wealth Of Nations, and other political & economic text

Same as the religious texts. Become an informed citizen. Read as much as you can.

tumblr_mqq690BA5A1r7itg8o2_500

Sounds Like: 80’s Bob Dylan

Folk legend Bob Dylan, is shown in London to help publicize the American-financed film "Hearts of Fire", Aug. 17, 1986 in which he will star as a retired rock star, which begins six weeks of filming later this month. Dylan, 45, protest songwriter/singer of the sixties, is doing film after an acting break of 12 years and is to write four songs for it. (AP Photo/Press Association)
(AP Photo/Press Association)

Welcome to the first installment of the ‘Sounds Like’ series, in which I travel back to a particular era or genre that is often neglected or misunderstood and try to make sense of it.

Saved (1980)

51rdPN34uhL

Dylan ended the 70’s with a prayer to Jesus and a big Fuck You to his fans who stuck around after Street Legal hoping for another Blood On The Tracks. Instead they got Slow Train Coming, a good album everyone hated because the prophet who once mocked all the men With God On Their Side now had God on his side. But hey, this is Bob Dylan. He’s just going through another phase and he’ll be back to his good old self and the 80’s are gonna be groovy man.

No man, not groovy.

Saved was Dylan’s second religious album in a row and his first for the new decade.

“Two religious Bob Dylan albums in a row? Nice knowing ya Bob.” – said every disgruntled person ever.

But here’s the thing – the album’s biggest sin is that the music is actually pretty good. Nothing particularly stands out, but taken as a whole this album manages to make sense as one entire unit instead of all of Dylan’s albums in the 70’s not named Blood On The Tracks (Yes, this means I don’t like Desire, but that’s for another day). It won’t rock your soul or get in you more in touch with Jesus, but you can do worse than spend 43 minutes of your time here.


 

Shot of Love (1981)

61h3164v-VL

The third and last of the Christian trilogy, but at the time no one knew this would just be a trilogy. Maybe Dylan didn’t even know this would be his last Christian album. Or maybe he did. Either way it’s the same case here as it was with Saved; it’s pretty good music bogged down by an off-putting message. The music is less gospel and more rock & roll, but Jesus is still alright in these songs. However, unlike Saved, there is one standout song: “Every Grain of Sand.”


 

Infidels (1983)

51ghnIkT1KL

“No more songs about Jesus? The first song sounds like Jimmy Buffett? Mark Knopfler produced it? Hallelujah!” – said every disgruntled person ever.


 

Empire Burlesque (1985)

Bob_Dylan-Empire_Burlesque-Frontal

Confession: I’ve never been able to sit through all of Empire Burlesque. It’s that bad.

Ok it’s not that bad. It’s just the most 80’s album you could possibly make. Which is pretty bad.

Is there any sort of redemption for this album? Yes, it’s called “Dark Eyes,” my favorite 80’s Dylan song. This could have been on Freewheelin’ all those years ago, and his voice and acoustic guitar has never sounded better.


 

Knocked Out Loaded (1986)

61n-bXWdmsL

Right when this album was released it earned the high distinction of being the most universally hated Bob Dylan album ever released. Every single critic except Robert Christgau hated it. And almost 30 years later not much has changed. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing really offensive or funny about how bad this music is. When Dylan was bad before, the music was intentionally bad or the music was so brilliant that it required decades of listening to be understood (Self-Portrait). Album cover aside, this album doesn’t seem like it’s trying to make any statement or to piss anyone off. It’s just boring.

But hey, “Brownsville Girl” ain’t so bad right?


 

Down in the Groove (1988)

51DZ2N0Z6NL

“Wait, this album also sucks? And Mark Knopfler produced this shit too? Gah, just give me ‘Silvio’ and leave me alone.” – said every disgruntled person ever.


 

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988)

Traveling_Wilburys_-_Volume_1

In which Dylan teamed up with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne to record an album scientifically engineered for the sole purpose of selling a million records to fund everyone’s solo albums.


 

Dylan & The Dead (1989)

61G5D8E73JL

Bob Dylan playing a show with the Grateful Dead might have sounded cool in 1966, but in 1989 it sounded like the cash-grab it was meant to be. Not terrible, but not essential.


 

Oh Mercy (1989)

614VfdbPvOL

It was clear by the end of the 80’s that Dylan had created a habit of ending each decade with a huge curveball for his fans and critics. In 1969 he had become a country singer. In 1979 he was a born-again Christian. In 1989 he made a U2 record. Of course by U2 I mean Daniel Lanois, the mastermind who produced most of U2’s albums and Oh Mercy, the last 80’s Dylan album and by far the best one.

If you’re wondering what a U2-produced Bob Dylan album sounds like, it sounds nothing like U2. The music is dark in a literal sense; this is music you listen to alone at night in the back of a bar or outside under the stars, wishfully thinking and feeling both happy and sad about life and love. Dylan has made better music, but few albums sound anything like Oh Mercy.

Note: this album sounds much better after reading Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One and watching High Fidelity.

 

You Can’t Listen To Hardcore Punk Rock. You Have To Watch Hardcore Punk Rock.

Decline of Western Civilization 2

You can’t listen to hardcore punk rock. Ok you can, but you’d be missing out. You need to watch hardcore punk, in the flesh, in a poorly lit LA club and be right in the middle of the sweaty mosh pit close enough to spit on the lead singer and for him or her to spit right back. You need Keith Morris to scream “I Just Want Some Skank” in one ear and Greg Hetson’s screaming electric guitar in the other and you need to pogo dance like there’s no tomorrow. It needs to be the 80s and you need to be pissed off. Reagan, your parents, new wave, they all suck. This is the only thing that’s happening, man.

But it’s not the 80s anymore, so you’re shit out of luck.

However, all is not lost: Penelope Spheeris directed a trilogy of films capturing the changing LA music scene throughout the 80s and 90s, just for you.

The first film is called “The Decline Of Western Civilization” (1981) and it covers the LA hardcore punk rock scene in 1979-80. The second film is “The Decline Of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years” (1988) and it covers LA hair metal and includes one of the most cringeworthy interviews ever. “The Decline Of Western Civilization III” (1998) covers LA’s homeless gutter punks.

The first “Decline” is the best one of the three that I’ve seen. I know because it’s the only one I’ve seen (I’m working on it). I also know because the first “Decline” nearly moved me to tears. This film is at times exhilarating and often moving. It’s a film that reminds you of the transcending power of music, both for the audience and for the artists themselves, but it’s also a reminder of its limitations. If nothing else, it’s a worthy tribute to an influential once in a lifetime music scene.

If you’ve read Michael Azerrad’s “Our Band Could Be Your Life” (and if you haven’t then why not?) this movie is about the very beginnings of Azerrad’s indie underground. This is pre-Henry Rollins Black Flag when Ron Reyes was screaming and kicking through “Depression” and “Revenge”. X had just released their seminal Los Angeles album, proving to all the kids that you could actually play your instruments and get just as rowdy and vicious as hardcore could get. Or you could wait around for Circle Jerks to throw their guitars into their amps and create wonderful loud noises. Darby Crash was still alive, though at this point he could only grunt or aimlessly yell his way through “Manimal” (Crash killed himself right before this film’s release by an intentional heroin overdose, which turned the 22-year-old into a sort of martyr of the hardcore scene).

The bands featured in the film are Black Flag, Germs, Circle Jerks, Catholic Discipline, Alice Bag Band, X, and Fear. Of those bands, Spheeris interviews Black Flag, Germs, Catholic Discipline, and X. Everyone plays 2-4 songs at various LA hardcore clubs. No band sounds the same, yet they all share the same stage and play to the same crowd.

Much of “Decline”‘s success as a movie comes from the the way that it’s shot. During the shows there are a few cameras placed literally in the middle of the crowd and some at the side of the stage. During interviews you never see Spheeris – you only see the bands. Both the live performances an the interviews are so intimate that you feel like you’re intruding on a scene that you’re not allowed in.

150630_CBOX_DeclineWestern.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlarge

Penelope Spheeris has had quite the career: her “Decline” films are underground classics, yet you probably know her as the director of Wayne’s World. A most excellent movie indeed, but it’s strange that while she poked fun at the rock n roll world via Wayne and Garth, she actually documented the real thing for over a decade. This is not to discredit her other films (she also directed “The Beverly Hillbillies”, “The Little Rascals”, and “Black Sheep”), but “Decline” is her most essential. It was also the most controversial; according to Slate, the film only made it to two theater screenings before the LA Police Chief banned the film form being shown in the city.

decline-of-western-civilization-photo02crop--06274b46-ba08-e511-a207-d4ae527c3b65-

If “Decline” means anything new in 2015, it’s now a document of a pre-Internet music scene. With no social media to promote your album, you had to actually go to the shows and partake instead of swaying while texting on your phone. Nostalgia is a killer, but there’s something to be said about a music scene in which you actually had to be there.

But “Decline” doesn’t have to be anything more than what it already is, which is a well-edited documentation of two years of some of the most influential and polarizing music of rock & roll.

This summer the “Decline” films were rereleased in Blu-ray and DVD boxed sets. Do yourself a favor and watch these films.

A List Of Major Music Publications (And Who Owns Them)

pitchfork-conde-nast-logoPhoto: Variety

Still freaking out about Condé Nast buying Pitchfork? Have no fear. There are plenty of great music publications that are also owned by major corporations.

This list is not all encompassing. This list is only focused on music-related publications and a few other entertainment and special interest publications. If your favorite website/blog is not listed here, then (for now) it isn’t owned by a major corporation. I also didn’t include which major companies have major equity investments in which publications, otherwise we’d be here all day…

This is as updated as I could make it. This list could change tomorrow.

Advance Publications Inc

  • Advance Digital (Regional Websites)
    • AL.com
    • cleveland.com
    • gulflive.com
    • MassLive.com
    • MLive.com
    • NJ.com
    • NOLA.com
    • OregonLive.com
    • PennLive
    • lehighvalleylive.com
    • SILive.com
    • syracuse.com
  • Condé Nast
    • Allure
    • Epicurious
    • Glamour
    • Golf Digest
    • GQ
    • Pitchfork
    • Self
    • Style
    • Teen Vogue
    • The New Yorker
    • Vanity Fair
    • Vogue
    • W
    • Wired
  • Reddit (it operates as an independent entity, but Advance is its largest shareholder)

Complex Media Inc.

  • Pigeons & Planes
  • First We Feast
  • NTRSCTN
  • Collider
  • Sole Collector
  • Four Pins
  • Green Label
  • Ride Channel
  • Triangle Offense

Gawker Media

  • Cink
  • Deadspin
  • Gawker
  • Gizmodo
  • io9
  • Jalopnik
  • Jezebel
  • Kotaku
  • Lifehacker

The Walt Disney Company

  • ABC
  • ABC Family
  • Disney Channels Worldwide
  • ESPN Inc. (Disney owns 80%, other 20% is owned by Hearst Corporation)
    • Grantland
  • Disney also owns pretty much everything.

Prometheus Global Media

  • Billboard
  • The Hollywood Reporter

SpinMedia

  • SPIN
  • Death and Taxes
  • Idolator
  • PureVolume
  • Absolute Punk
  • Direct Lyrics
  • Brooklyn Vegan (According to BV’s website this website is independent, but there is some type of advertisement-based relationship between these two.)
  • Buzznet
  • Under The Gun Review
  • Free Williamsburg
  • Stereogum
  • Vibe

Time Inc.

  • Time
  • Sports Illustrated
  • Fortune
  • Entertainment Weekly
  • People
  • InStyle
  • LIFE
  • Time Inc. UK
    • NME
    • Uncut

Wenner Media LLC

  • Rolling Stone
  • US Weekly
  • Men’s Journal

Vox Media

  • SB Nation
  • The Verge
  • Polygon
  • Curbed
  • Eater
  • Racked
  • Vox
  • Re/code