Episode 98: Top of the Pops

Thanks to Nilina Mason-Campbell for joining us! You can listen above, or download the episode right here.

Topic:

  • Pop music!
  • When did we learn to love pop music?
  • When did “Pop” become a sound, rather than another word for “popular music”?
  • Is pop music unfairly maligned?

Songs:

  • U2 – “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”
  • Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream”
  • Arcade Fire – “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
  • Primal Scream – “Movin’ on Up”

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Episode 97: Time-Based Art

Many thanks to and Alley Frey and Will Elder for joining us! You can listen to the episode above, or download the episode right here.

Topic:

  • Time-Based Art Festival
  • What do our guests do within the festival?
  • Where did they get their start?
  • What are our histories with the festival?
  • What are we most interested in seeing this year?

Songs:

  • Aphex Twin – “minipops 67 [120.2]“
  • Tim Hecker – “Chimeras”
  • Melissa Etheridge – “I Want to Be In Love”
  • Joan Rivers on Ed Sullivan, 1967

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LIVE: How to Dress Well, Neumos, Seattle, WA

By Jacob Gellman

“Two things: it’s so hot in here. And it smells like fucking hot dogs.” Just two songs into his set at Neumos, Tom Krell (a.k.a. How To Dress Well) was feeling the heat. It did smell like fucking hot dogs – a door left ajar on house right was letting a hot dog stand’s odors waft directly into Neumos, filling the Seattle venue with a tear-inducing smoked sausage sensation. “We’ve never taken our shirts off at a show,” Krell regretfully explained, ignoring pleas from audience members to do so anyway.

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LIVE: Brand New, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Brand New // Photo Credit: Hollister Dixon

Brand New // Photo Credit: Hollister Dixon

By Hollister Dixon

Brand New occupy a very specific, very big place in my heart. I first heard the bombastic, pop punk gem of a record Your Favorite Weapon at roughly 16, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Then I discovered the very heartfelt and dynamic Deja Entendu, and fell head over heels in love with the band. Not long after falling in love, they released their third record, the wildly different and incredibly mature The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, an album so far removed in every way from Your Favorite Weapon that it may as well not even be the same band. This also includes the band’s last record, Daisy, which could be described as “impenetrable” (and has, by my showgoing companion/FOTR contributor/only real Brand New fan I know Jordan Portlock), which continues that trek away from those wry, goofy pop punk roots. The last time Brand New stopped by Portland was the 2011 incarnation of MusicFest Northwest, and at that point, Daisy was already two years old. And, despite being five years removed from that record, and despite having no new material to speak of, it seemed like as good of a time as any for the band to come back to Portland – and a good reason for me to fall back in love with Jesse Lacey’s words.

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LIVE: Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, Sleep Country Amphitheater, Ridgefield, WA

Nine Inch Nails // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

By Hollister Dixon // Photos by Yousef Hatlani

Okay look: you don’t need me to introduce Soundgarden or Nine Inch Nails. If you’re reading this review, you know these bands. We all know these bands. People who think they don’t know these bands know them, and if you don’t believe me, just find anyone who says they don’t, and play “Closer” or “Black Hole Sun” for them. They’ll know. These are two bands (yes, for the sake of brevity, let’s call Nine Inch Nails a band, rather than a steadily changing cast of characters that helps Trent Reznor be incredible) that somehow managed to outlast everyone in their respective classes, failing to fade into obscurity to the point where they’ve become (in a lot of circles, at least) highly respected acts that now put on arena-sized shows and command arena-sized audiences, and have truly earned it.

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LIVE: Slint, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Slint // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

By Hollister Dixon // Photos by Yousef Hatlani

Before we begin, let’s talk a little bit about the history of Slint: Existing for six years in the late 80s/early 90s, Louisville, KY’s Slint (made up of Brian McMahan, David Pajo, Britt Walford, Ethan Buckler, and Todd Brashear) lasted just long enough to put out three releases (1989’s Tweez, and 1991’s Spiderland, as well as an untitled EP, which came out after they’d already broken up) and call it quits.In the time since, however, Spiderland took on a life of its own, proving to have a longevity that was almost unpredictable. The band’s mix of not-quite-post-rock and not-quite-math-rock influenced an incredible amount of bands, to the point where they’ve been cited as the catalyst for both post rock and math rock. In 2005, the band set off on a reasonably sized tour, and have played music sporadically to adoring crowds ever since.

Despite the fact that their music seems like an ill fit for a live experience, it seemed absolutely necessary to get the chance to pay homage to this band. And it felt fantastic, for the most part. More on that in a bit.

First off, let’s talk a little bit about Tropical Trash. Now, I am a very big fan of noise rock bands, and I have nothing but respect for them. However, the Louisville, KY band seemed to have missed an important lesson about the nature of noise rock: if it lacks structure, it will fail. This is a style of music that requires a specific kind of balance, where you pit the joy of sonic dissonance up against the joy of songwriting, and see what comes out of the battle. But while that battle is often a graceful ballet (see: Sonic Youth, a band as obsessed with cacophony as they were with fascinating song structures), it turns into an ugly, one-sided beating if you forego form and set your course directly towards noise. Their entire set felt like a group of people lazily forming pieces made entirely of unrelated notes, and it wasn’t until maybe three songs from the end that I heard something that actually sounded like a song. Before that, it was anybody’s guess what I was hearing, but it didn’t sound like music to me at all, is just sounded like a band that couldn’t be bothered to care much about what they were playing. It was disheartening, because when they did play songs, it sounded fantastic. Better luck next time, I suppose.

Tropical Trash // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

So before we talk about Slint‘s performance: let’s talk about crowds. As a very frequent showgoer, I am a big admirer of great atmosphere within a crowd, and when a band like Slint comes back to live music, and plays your city, it’s probably for the best to get them the love and respect they deserve. However, it seems like the crowd that evening was unaware of this unspoken rule, as they took the set as license to talk very loudly, mosh for no discernable reason, and generally tarnish the experience. One such person (you know who you are, guy in the Thrasher shirt) was bad enough that, when he tried to drunkenly apologize to me, I felt compelled to let him know that he was ruining the night for me. This inspired him to be even louder, heckled the band, insulted Portland’s crowds, and acted foolish enough that even his friend told him that he needed to take a step back. That guy left four songs before the end, so I hope he’s happy having missed “Good Morning, Captain”. As for the rest of the crowd, who treated Slint like a mid-week opener: for shame, people.

Now, enough about the crowd. What about the band? For one, I spoke with FOTR’s photographer/co-host before the band took the stage, and I pointed out that, if the band’s sound mix was wrong, the entire show would be completely ruined. Pristine production is the name of the game here, where no notes feel superfluous, and every piece needs to be in lockstep with the rest. How was this part? The short answer: it was fantastic. But the long answer: the band’s singer/guitarist, Brian McMahan, must know that this is true, as he took it upon himself to act as the band’s sound engineer as well as performer, often taking a time out to walk over to the on-stage mixing board (something I’ve never seen onstage before) and fiddle with things, until it was just right. The effect was incredibly noticeable: by allowing a band built around the balance of sound to do what they needed to to maintain that balance, you get a performance that’s enough to leave anybody awestruck. It was, without a doubt, one of the best sounding performances I’ve ever gotten to see. This was paired with an incredibly understated use (or non-use) of the stage’s lighting, opting to present themselves as distinguished silhouettes most of the time, only somewhat visible in the half light of the Ballroom. Compared to the weekend’s other two shows and their lighting (more on those later), this was the most moody, atmospheric set I’ve ever seen, and that’s without even getting into the band’s performance itself.

Slint // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

As for the band, they were incredibly tight, almost absurdly so. Each member of the band fell into a perfect groove with every other member, allowing for an impressive state of serene soundscapes, all of which were incredibly easy to get lost in. And while the last band I saw that was so capable of this did so in a way that made it all feel unnecessary (looking at you, Mazzy Star), Slint’s strengths lie in that unwavering perfection, providing an incredible case for the power of a band sounding exactly like the record while performing the material live. They played every song from Spiderland, and each one sounded better than the last, up until the punishingly beautiful conclusion/Spiderland closer “Good Morning, Captain”, which wrapped up with a wave of reverb bigger and more punishing than anything I’ve ever experienced. I would have been perfectly happy if the band had walked offstage and ended the evening without an encore, as the performance of that song topped anything that could have come after it. And, in truth, it did; the band came back for two songs (“Pat” and “Rhoda” from Tweez), both of which felt like song sketches more than anything else, and it felt strange to end the night with those two tracks, after the blistering beauty of “Good Morning, Captain”. As far as I’m concerned, this was the show’s one and only misstep, though this is a minor trifle.

Despite a terribly irreverent crowd and a funky encore, it’s hard to figure out a way this performance could have felt better. This was a rare moment in time where I felt truly awestruck by the discipline and talent of a band, and despite occasional moments of blistering guitar work, I never felt compelled to thrash around like I normally would at another show. Slint are a band that don’t need that. They’re a band that deserves to be heard live with your head bowed and your eyes closed, while taking in every single note that fell from their perfect songs.

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Episode 96: One Hit

Thanks to Jacob Heiteen for joining us this week! You can listen to the episode above, or download it right here.

Topic:

  • One-Hit Wonders
  • What exactly makes something a “one-hit wonder”? What qualifies as a “hit”?
  • Where do one-hit wonders come from? Why do they become so popular?
  • Can a song be a one-hit wonder if produced by a highly popular/influential band?
  • Do record sales/airplay work as a way to judge if a song is or isn’t a one-hit wonder, or even just a “hit”?
  • What makes a song a “hit” in the first place?
  • Do they still exist in the internet age? Does a YouTube play count tell you as much as sales used to?
  • Why do people love the concept of the “one-hit wonder” so much?

Songs:

  • John Williams – “Jurassic Park Theme”
  • Len – “Steal My Sunshine”
  • Swans – “Song For a Warrior”
  • Castanets – “Tell Them Memphis”

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Bob Dylan Announces Tour, Will Play Keller Auditorium October 21st

BobDylan

By Hollister Dixon

When I sat down to write this post, I tried to imagine a way to talk about Bob Dylan in a way that somehow conveys his importance without sounding sycophantic. But you know what? That idea is preposterous. It’s almost impossible to talk about Dylan from a neutral perspective. So let’s cut it out and be frank here, shall we?

Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, MN, is the world’s greatest living songwriter, and one of the best of all time. There will never be anybody better than Dylan, only people on the same level as him. He wrote “Like a Rolling Stone”, and “The Times They Are a-Changing”, and “Tangled Up in Blue”, and “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, and hundreds more. He made Blood on the Tracks and Highway 61 Revisited. He’s often credited as being the guy who turned The Beatles onto marijuana, and look how that turned out for their music. Do I really need to say anything else to convince you? Probably not. So I’m going to save my breath. And if you’re unconvinced… I don’t know what there is left to do.

So, we’re on the same page now, right? Good. Here’s the thing about Bob Dylan that you probably know: he never stops touring. He’s a dynamo that should be harnessed to power cities, and while a lot of people are on the fence about his abilities as a showman this late in his life, he’s still Bob effing Dylan, and he deserves to do what he wants. And what he wants is to embark on a 31-date tour, simply because he can (he hasn’t released an album since 2012’s Tempest). The last handful of times Mr. Dylan stopped by Portland, he (rightfully) played the Rose Garden, but… that’s a little bit much, don’t you think? Why not something more warm and inviting, like, say, the Keller Auditorium? Well, you’re in a lot of luck, dear friend. Amidst all of the three-night engagements, he’ll be taking October 21st to play an almost certainly magnificent show at our very own Keller Auditorium, with its beautiful architecture and almost unbeatable acoustics. Is that heaven? Absolutely it is.

Keep an eye out right here for more information on buying tickets, and continue below for the rest of his tour dates around the country.

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LIVE: The Blood Brothers, Showbox, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

Having been hungover all day, the red glow emanating from the ceiling of The Showbox felt incredibly appropriate: I am now inside my head. When a girl in the front row passed out two minutes before the show started, that felt about right, too (She was fine, don’t worry). We were, after all, here to see the reunion of hometown heroes The Blood Brothers, who have a the fanbase of an evil Jesus.

But first, Naomi Punk. I have so much to say. I had only listened to a couple of songs before the show, so I kind of knew what I was getting into, but I didn’t know. When three self-consciously weird-looking young dudes stepped onstage, looking like they hadn’t emerged from the Olympia basement where they wrote these songs pretty much ever, they immediately had me stunned. It’s been ages since I’ve seen the guitar-as-instrument made so compelling. Frontman Travis Coster played a low-strung guitar, detuned for maximum weighty impact, while his foil, Neil Gregerson, in all his bowl-cutted glory, worked a regular six-string. The guitars were creatively amped, again for max heaviness. The moment these two started playing, along with brutalist drummer Nicolas Luempert, my jaw fell slightly open and I couldn’t quite move from where I stood.

I’m not really sure how to describe Naomi Punk. They use rock and punk tools and signifiers without making a single ordinary punk/rock move. The guitars move in obtuse patterns, chord progressions don’t make sense, musical phrases seem to last as long as they feel like lasting, without being constrained by meter. Song structure does not exist. Luempert’s approch to drumming doesn’t once really involve a “beat,” per se, he more just makes sure to be hitting something on each eighth note, and every once in a while, somewhere in between. This means most every note involves all three members attacking their instruments at once, in a way that actually sort of physically assaults you. Coster’s approach to singing is mostly intensely a-melodic, so that when he actually does something pretty and tuneful you really feel it.

The melodies are worked by the guitars, where certain motifs seem to pop up across the songs—lines are drawn easily from “Firehose Face” to “Linoleum Tryst #19” to “Television Man.” The same three-note ascending riff, the same rhythmic pattern floats up frequently, as if these are just elements of music Coster’s mind never stops circling.

Because Naomi Punk is from the Northwest, critics clamoring for some comparison to make immediately land on grunge. As far as I can tell, the only real through-line is that these guys tend to favor the low end of their guitar necks, and that the music is pretty heavy as a result. (I suppose they do thank “Kurdt” in their liner notes, but come on, this is not grunge music.) Honestly, the only influence I can point to directly is their use of looped noise tracks during tuning sessions, a hallmark of early Sonic Youth shows, before they could afford multiple guitars. If there’s any regional connection, it’s to Tumwater/Olympia band Unwound, who took a rather different approach to a similarly jaundiced, sour tone.

Naomi Punk are intensely DIY—they have pretty much zero online presence, their records are distributed by Captured Tracks, but as far as I can tell they pretty much do everything else themselves. As a result, listening to this stuff on record, as I’ve now been doing pretty much since I got home, is a slightly less intense affair. The weight of their live sound doesn’t come across to quite the same extent on this year’s Television Man or 2012’s The Feeling, due simply to production value. So please, for the love of god, go see them live. This band’s highest-profile champions are Parquet Courts, with whom they played the Vera Project a couple weeks ago (I went to Diarrhea Planet instead). I find it interesting that Parquet Courts, the band currently riding the “Guitar-Rock Saviors” wave of hype harder than anyone else by virtue of doing pretty much nothing original (though, yes, they are a lot of fun), are promoting Naomi Punk, who are nothing if not original, and who, in my personal opinion, are vastly more deserving of this praise. If anyone is making guitar music relevant today, it’s these guys. Just listen to “Rodeo Trash Pit” for proof.

After the show, Coster let me short-change him by a buck for a copy of Television Man, because that was all the cash I had. The back of the sleeve bears two directives: “RECLAIM YOUR LIFE” and “PLEASE BLAST THE RECORD.” After last night, I am fully inspired to do both.

Okay. There. I think that’s everything I wanted to say about Naomi Punk. So, The Blood Brothers.

A bit of history: The Blood Brothers formed in high school, and put out their first record, 2000’s This Adultery Is Ripe when they were 19. By 2006, they had released four more willfully erratic, difficult, theatrical post-hardcore full-lengths and a couple EPs, and they broke up in 2007, at the age of 26. Co-frontman Jordan Blilie, bassist Morgan Henderson and drummer Mark Gajadhar formed the alright Past Lives with founding Blood Bro Devin Welch, while other frontman Johnny Whitney and guitarist Cody Votolato teamed up with Jay Clark (ex-Pretty Girls Make Graves) for the pretty bad Jaguar Love. Blilie and Welch also started an apparently pretty good Rolling Stones cover band called, of course, The Rolling Stones, Henderson worked with Fleet Foxes and Hamilton Leithauser, Gajadhar became a beatmaker for hip-hop act Champagne Champagne, Whitney and his wife formed a clothing line, and Votolato played with Telekinesis and Cold Cave. Somewhere in there, Epitaph decided to do vinyl reissues of the band’s four main records. Then, seven years post-breakup, somewhere around age 33, they decided to reunite. (No one really looks like they’ve aged much, either, except maybe Votolato, whose hair was intricately styled to mask his growing forehead.)

I say all this just to emphasize their youth—how many people “get the band back together” at 33? How many have built up a legacy like the Blood Brothers by 26? Almost as many records bear the stamps of these five men as there are records by the actual Rolling Stones. They are important.

As a massive banner bearing the cover of their assumed swan song, 2006’s Young Machetes, went up, the crowd went apeshit. The moshing started before the band even took the stage, and it didn’t ever let up. These fans are devoted: I’m rarely able to decipher Blood Brothers lyrics, but everyone here seemed to know every single one.

I have to confess that I’m only super familiar with their 2004 record Crimes, and having now heard the other three (no one counts Adultery), I feel justified in considering it their best. 2002’s March On Electric Children and 2003’s breakout Burn, Piano Island, Burn are so incredibly dense, winding, and intricately composed that it’s hard to find a place to sink one’s teeth into—the songs blur together into one maelstrom that’s obstinately hard to listen to. Young Machetes’ returns to this pattern, with the focus on start-stop tempos, endlessly morphing song structure, and overzealous production from Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. Crimes, however, is where Votolato learned to play one string at a time, Blilie was given the opportunity to actually sing for the first time, and the band as a whole figured out how to write songs with hooks. The album had them realizing that their rhythm section could really swing when given the chance to slow down, and that they could do some interesting stuff at lower tempos and lower volumes. It’s also where they let their taste for the theatrical run wild—the whole thing should probably be named after a different one of its songs, “Live At The Apocalypse Cabaret.”

So, point being, I was a little disappointed by how little they played off of Crimes. The title track sounded great, “Trash Flavored Trash” was an excellent opener, “Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers” was a blast, and naturally, they killed it on their biggest hit “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck,” which found Whitney shrieking “LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE” into one of the overhead drum mics as his mic cut out. But where was “Apocalypse Cabaret?” “Rats And Rats And Rats For Candy?” And “Devastator?” Come on, guys, everybody needs a little devastation… (That said, of all the records I saw people clutching, Crimes seemed to be most popular, especially amongst the female contingent, of whom there were shockingly many for a show like this.)

The other surprise in the setlist was how heavy it was on Young Machetes, a record I foolishly assumed people didn’t really like. But songs like “Set Fire To The Face On Fire,” “Camouflage, Camouflage” and “Vital Beach” got at least as many cheers as every other song, if not more.

The sound was so blown out, and Votolato’s guitar so deliberately tinny, that there was a general piercing hiss over everything, making many songs hard to distinguish (then again, I have the same problem with Piano Island and Electric Children material on record). But I can testify to this band’s showmanship. Where pretty much any other band of their ilk would have doubled down on guitars, The Blood Brothers go for two vocalists, a technique which serves them very well. The dialogue between Blilie’s sultry baritone and Whitney’s androgynous shriek makes tracks like “Peacock Skeleton” really stand out, and when they scream in unison on pretty much every other song, it’s really that much more powerful. Blilie tended to stalk the stage predatorily, while Whitney, always the showboat, gesticulated and writhed. Votolato did his part, too, screaming along, jumping into the crowd, a giant medallion hanging from his neck.

After an impassioned speech from Blilie about how much he loves these other guys, during which Whitney placed his hand on his heart and looked like he would cry, and an announcement that it was Henderson’s birthday, the band launched into the organ-driven main-set closer, “Cecilia And The Silhouette Saloon,” which I’d never really noticed on Piano Island, but which killed live. They returned for an encore of “Set Fire,” a few songs from Adultery for the die-hards, and the only song they could conceivably close with, Piano Island closer “The Shame.” While I was hoping they’d imitate the recorded version’s cold ending, it was good enough chanting along with “Everything is going to be just awful when we’re around” until the final chord struck. It’s nice and awful to have you back, Bros.

PS: To the guy in the fairy unitard and tutu, wandering around waving a paper fan: Thank you. That was an amazing act of charity.

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Slowdive To Play Crystal Ballroom November 5th, With Support by Low

slowdive

By Hollister Dixon

When people think of shoegaze, they often think of My Bloody Valentine, and for good reason: they’re possibly the finest example of the genre there is. But, when they aren’t thinking of MBV, they’re likely thinking of the band’s Creation Records labelmates Slowdive. The Reading band were the dreamlike, ambient, almost poppy answer to MBV’s sometimes brutal soundscapes, existing for a very short, very pristine six-year span in the late 80s/early 90s, just long enough to release three records – 1991’s Just For A Day, 1993’s Souvlaki (the band’s masterwork), and 1995’s Pygmalion – before stepping down from the stage one day, never to return. But, in early 2014, that changed. The band had gotten back together, ready to perform to rabid, almost religiously devoted fans all over the place, who have been hanging on every syllable that Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell produced 20 years ago.

Slowdive are currently in the middle of a delightfully long tour across North America and Europe, and this autumn sees the band stopping by the Crystal Ballroom on November 5th, with support by Duluth, MN slowcore giants Low, one of the few bands that manages to capture the same essence that Slowdive did all those years ago. If you’re a fan of rolling sonic landscapes, dreamy vocals, and the feeling of heavy eyelids, this is without a doubt the best way to help you prepare for winter in the Northwest.

You can click right here to head over to the Crystal Ballroom page to read more about the show and buy tickets. You can also continue below to have a look at the rest of the band’s upcoming tour dates.

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