Saturday, October 29, 2016


Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! was a cutesy indie band for a minute, back in the early 00s.  Maybe 2002-2004?  Of immediate note, the band's lead singer was Mark Duplass, who went on to do quite a bit of television and film, most of which I haven't seen (I did see "The One I Love," which was a totally fucked up film.)

I saw them play at some point, with a crowd of, I don't know, twelve people.  I think most of the people in the audience were just the members of the other bands who played, so I don't imagine the Volcano guys made their gas money back on that one.  They played through the majority, if not entirety, of their sole album.

During one of their slower songs, one of the members took out a stack of posterboards, each of which containing a drawing.  Cycling through the posterboards, what ultimately came out was a picture story about ninjas, unicorns, maybe a dragon?  It was all very fairy-tale kitsch and cutesy.

It would have failed in front of a larger crowd, being as awkward as it was, but n front of a small crowd, you couldn't help but confront that awkwardness, rather than just laugh it off.  This guy's showing a story about rainbows in front of 6 people he's never met.  To music.  Yeah, it was weird, but in sort of an intimate way.  Like holding hands for the first time or fumbly sex.

And they killed it.  The whole show.  They performed their cute-ass songs with energy and love, not only aware of their small crowd, but in tribute to it.

The band itself always felt like the members' side job - something that they weren't completely sold on, themselves, which I'm guessing is why they didn't tour or record a follow-up.  Their music was certainly cute and sappy.  Brutally cute and sappy, even, which I'll admit is a niche market.  I think it's part of why this band always stood out for me, but not the whole reason - it's not just brutally cute and sappy, it's unabashedly cute and sappy.  They weren't putting on airs.  They weren't playing to any particular crowd other than people who would like them.

Oh, I'm about 90% sure that the posterboard story came during this song (the other 10% goes to "Firebombing London," but I don't think that's right.)

And for good measure, one of their music videos below the jump:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Believe in What You Want

So, in drastic departure (?) of the stuff I've posted, here's top 40 band Jimmy Eat World.  What?  That "The Middle" band?

Some time during my last year of high school - 1999, for those keeping record - I was heavy into punk bands.  This was satisfying to my teenage rebelliousness, my anger, and my total lack of concern for high school and social norms, but it didn't really speak to my angst and burgeoning adulthood. Besides, I would never be one of the punk rock kids and I knew it - I was terrified of giving myself over to groupthink.

I started this new adulthood by exploring music that was more fitting to the jumble that was my sense of self.  You know, like most kids.  The punk rock was slowly giving way to punk bands with "feelings."  Samiam, 88 Fingers Louie.  All good.  Music became less political and outward, more expressive and inward.

Since I was a lackadaisical do-nothing slacker in my high school classes, I spent much of one class looking for music on this new internet thing.  By chance, I read a glowing review of Jimmy Eat World's "Clarity" on some random homespun website.  I think I was intrigued by the name - this is clearly a band with no motivation for fame.  I'm pretty sure they used the word "emo" in the review, which was probably my first time hearing the word that I disliked so much that I would spend dozens of hours of my life trying to define and defend it to others on the internet.  I guess I can own up to that now.

Anyway, I went out and got the album later that week.  For a kid who grew up on punk albums and was trying hard to grow up, 'Clarity' was like a punch in the gut.  It ran the gamut between soft and hard.  It was delicate - on purpose - and expressive.  It complained about the radio.  It's lyrics were damn near nonsense, but they had heart.  Songs would run 6... 7... 16 minutes.  Crazy stuff.  What are those, violins?  Timpani?  Bells?  The album had an incredible focus.*  

I'm not sure why this album spoke to me the way it did.  Was it because I was 18?  Was there something special about the album?  Would any non-punk rock album have had the same effect?  Was it validating merely because it was an underground band and I knew so few at the time that weren't on Epitaph or Fat Wreck or SST?

I don't have an answer.  I think those of us who spend a lot of time and effort exploring music have albums like these - albums that maybe don't initiate a turning point as much as they are representative of one.  In 1999, I moved out, went to college, was lovelorn, poor, and new to the world.  This was the right album for that year.

In 1999, the band fit in with the other indie bands of the era that I would soon explore.  You'd hear their name in conversations about Braid, At the Drive-In, the Promise Ring, Texas is the Reason.  A couple years later, they were all over the radio, which was both fulfilling and weird - what they became popular for was a different sound than what I'd hoped for their next albums.  I don't hold a grudge or anything, it's just a thing that happened.  They put out an album that was meaningful for me at an important time in my life.  That's no small thing.

Many albums later and the band sounds very little like they used to.  Some sounds reflect elements of their early works, but only rarely, and the band is not often mentioned in the context of 90s indie bands so much as early 2000s pop-punk.  In 1999, they toured with a relatively unknown At The Drive-In, in 2000 with Jebediah, in 2001 on the Warped Tour and in 2002 or 2003, with Green Day and Blink 182.

The biggest challenge of being a fan of anything is when what you like about something, and what they're known for, are two different things.  It becomes a question of accuracy - were they ever that good?  Was that just how I perceived them at the time and now I can't consider them objectively?  Were the early works flukes?  Isn't 'The Middle' stupid?  Can I like anything they do now?

I don't have answers, but I stopped caring much about this.  Jimmy Eat World's new album came out earlier this week; and while, no, it doesn't sound like Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World, there are some good songs here.  I don't know what it means, and I don't care.  I'm 35 goddamn years old - if I can't like something, unfettered, what's the point of liking anything?  In conversation, I might still qualify any discussion of them, "I liked Jimmy Eat World back in the day, but not their new stuff."  That's such a shitty way to have to talk about things, let alone think about them.

*[This is the sort of overview that wouldn't have gotten me to get the album in 1999.]

Let it rest and be done

While he was in The Weakerthans, John K. Samson initiated a series of songs, loosely organized around a cat named "Virtute" (that's pronounced "wihr-Too-tay" for you non-Latin-philes.)  Framed around Virtute's relationship with her owner, Virtute became a symbolic foil for adulthood, for struggle and motivation, and ultimately, for depression and alcoholism.

The first song song finds Virtute encouraging her owner to get up and out, to have a party and small talk with neighbors, rather than just sit around, watching TV and drinking like he typically does. She'll "cater with all the birds that I can kill."  The owner will start to believe he's strong ("lick the sorrow from your skin"), in this imaginary party world, if only he can get up and do it.  Virtute is this sad man's champion.  I know you can do it, bud, "I know you're strong."  It's just deep down in there.  C'mon bud, you're great.

In the second song, we get a tone change.  Virtute gets lost, she and her owner are unable to find one another, and she ends up living on the street, left remembering her time with her owner.  Virtute adores her owner, but can only do this from afar now.  John writes his most heartbreaking phrase, where Virtute misses her owner, but "can't remember the sound that you found for me."  She forgot her own name!  This song brings me to tears every time.

Of course, there's more to it than that--Samson doesn't write songs at a surface level only.  Virtute comes to represent the will and the motivation of a person in the midst of struggle - that internal, reassuring voice - but has become so far removed that she can only reflect detached and longingly. The motivation and goodness of life itself has become so far removed from this person that it has become achingly unfamiliar.

This brings us to song number 3, just released last week on Sampson's excellent new "solo" album.
Virtute, now but a loving, supportive memory of this person who has struggled, but ultimately pulled it together.  Ever the friend, ever the champion, Virtute offers one last nod of support.  You did it, friend; now you can relax and enjoy yourself, because we will always support each other, together or not.  We should all be so lucky.

Now that the treatment 
and antidepressants
and seven months sober have built me a bed 
in the back of your brain 
Where the memories flicker 
and i paw at the synapses 
bright bits of string 
You should know i am with you 
Know i forgive you 
Know i am proud of the steps you have made 
Know it will never be 
easy or simple 
Know i will dig in my claws when you stray 
So let us rest here 
like we used to 
in a line of late afternoon sun 
Let it rest 
All you can't change 
Let it rest and be done

Thursday, October 6, 2016

There's a little bit of springtime in the back of my mind

Leatherface did themselves a disservice by naming their band "Leatherface."  You hear "Leatherface" and just assume they'll be some sort of Misfits band, instead of this hard post-punk pop shoegazing something or other that they actually are.  One of their members died recently and I believe they're officially over now.  They had a pretty solid catalogue overall, but there are some particular winners that stand out.

When I need to rock out - like, really need it - I sit in the car, crank up the volume, and put this one on.  That first note hits you right in the ear holes.