If you were ever an eight to twelve year old boy, you played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. You skateboarded. And you sucked. A 6ft. drop-in was considered “rad”. You skated with your helmet unstrapped because it looked cool. You got in the way of soul skater twenty-somethings and got embarrassed. You put your board on top of a rail and then slide down it, considering yourself a “grind expert”. You spent $2.50 on saccharine Mountain Dew. And you loved every damn second of it. “Ice Age” by Diarrhea Planet is like a preteen’s skater energy: ambitious, abrasive, and playfully boastful. The guitars crash together, hurling forces of metallic punk-rock in all different directions. Shouts and Westerberg-esque growls melodically cover up the barrage, inducing rapid head bobs and violent fist pumps. “Ice Age” is as catchy as it is frantic, featuring Ramones-like vocal and guitar hooks. It’s tough to find a band that really embodies punk-rock these days, but Diarrhea Planet are an exception to that unfortunate trend. Diarrhea Planet’s skate-rock energy and genuine enjoyment of their music would fit nicely in a Rodney Mullen or Matt Hoffman video; they have that turn-of-the-century unpretentiousness and accessibility that punk-rock is all about. “Shred till you’re dead, or go to hell,” may or may not be the band’s official motto, but I think it suits them perfectly.
Here’s the music video to “Ice Age” which features the band getting slapped in the face with pizza, annihilating a game of darts, cruising dirty in a Scion, and accepting drumsticks from an angel-like figure, labeled “Dad.” Enjoy.
With Frank Ocean’s recent coming out, one can’t help but wonder whether the praise that Channel Orange has received is directly correlated with his sexuality. It’s like Sandra Bullock winning an academy award for her mediocre performance in The Blindside because of her husband’s highly publicized adultery or Ian Curtis’ advancement into rock-god-indie-icon status because of his suicide (even though he was immensely talented.) Scandal, gossip, and trauma have always seemed to sugarcoat dark, average, or just plain dull forms of art. “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis doesn’t bother with this simple way of thinking. Instead, the duo confronts the controversial topic of being gay and exploits the loopholes and hypocrisy of gay right’s naysayers. “Same Love” isn’t like an angry Rachel Maddows tirade or an overtly flamboyant Perez Hilton “look-at-me” rant, it’s an approachable, empathetic, and modest thesis regarding the duo’s opinion toward homosexuality. Mary Lambert adds a beautiful chorus sample and the song’s piano loop is emotionally absorbing, conjuring up the feeling of returning to an old house you once grew up in or bumping into an old friend. Macklemore’s delivery is blunt and to the point, similar to Sage Francis, and Ryan Lewis’ production is laid back and finely developed; the beat rolls eagerly and inoffensively. It’s clear that Macklemore is not gay, he just believes in equal rights, something that I think the entire world should be behind. History has always had a way with bigoted suppression that stems from archaic, conservative ideals, from civil rights to animal rights. It’s our responsibility as a people to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, not any religion’s, not any law’s, and not any figurehead’s. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis cleanly and politely toss their liberal views onto a rainbow canvas.
What the hell happened to guitar pop? It’s disappeared into the digital sea of chilled out synthesizers, the experimental whirlwind of hardcore punk and rock, and the wooden breeze of indie folk. Where are all the Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and Death Cab for Cuties? Five years ago those guys were on top of the world. It’s just so rare to find an exceptional guitar pop song these days. “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” by John K. Samson ignores that scarcity and nonchalantly restores the missing vitality in the six-string harmony. Samson, a frontman of the Canadian indie rock band, The Weakerthans, spins a descriptive tale of a grad student’s struggle to finish his master’s thesis. The songwriting is highly detailed with descriptions of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game sessions, library all-nighters, and one of my personal favorites, the horrid task of citing sources. It’s a relatable song for anybody who’s ever had a monolith of academia presented in front of them. “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” is a catchy, unpretentious song that highlights the joy of finishing something you’ve been painstakingly working at. Maybe guitar-pop isn’t so hard to find after all.
Ah, internet buzz. It’s awesome and horrible at the same time, it exposes great music in an easy, accessible way yet it has spawned a terrible throw-it-away, instantaneous culture. It’s like the five year old at the grocery store begging his mom to buy candy, “I want it NOW!!” But what happens when the band behind the buzz, the Best New Music accolades, and the numerous music festival bookings actually have enough talent and obscurity to stay “relevant” in today’s aggressive approach toward art and culture? A real “band” emerges, not just a collection of MP3 singles. In early 2011, Purity Ring, a Canadian synth-dream-trip-hop duo released a collection of MP3’s that tore through the blogosphere, gaining the group massive amounts of buzz. They played a couple of shows and then seemingly disappeared into the studio to write their brand new debut, Shrines. During this quick period of absence, one could easily lump Purity Ring into the buzz band cemetery along with other countless victims like Black Kids and more recently, Best Coast. Shrines is a pretty good indication of the band’s ability to break through the fluctuating nature of the hype. “Amenamy” is a tripped out, ethereal, glow of electronics. The beat skitters along like a southern hip-hop anthem, the 808’s pounding in a head-bobbing craze. The electronic synths twinkle and illuminate in cyclical patterns that illustrate colorful circles in your head. Megan James’ vocals deliver like a sirens, enticing and dangerous. Purity Ring’s finest aspect has to be their intriguing use of vocal pitch shifts. Nearly every song on Shrines features Burial-like vocal shifts throughout but contain enough variation that they feel entirely different from each other. Overall, Shrines is a pleasing take on buzz-based music and proves that Purity Ring have the ability to beat the instant gratification of the hype world. After all, who would want to have a record library of just 45’s?
If Marvin Gaye was still alive, I think he’d be amazed at the variations and metamorphosis soul and R&B has gone under. It’s been taken and analyzed, innovated, surgically dissected, and transformed into a myriad of different breeds– from traditional R&B crooners, Mayer Hawthorne and Aloe Blacc, to top 40 megastars like Usher and Ne-Yo to independent post-party depressors like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean– it’s a diverse genre to say the least. Tom Krell, the Brooklynite madman behind the experimental, meditative, How to Dress Well, has taken R&B and transformed it into a Confucius-like spa session. The first half of “Ocean Floor For Everything” is like a wet breeze that comfortably blows across a beach just before a massive storm; percussion-less, Krell’s soulful crooning and gentle organ textures soothe the mind like a beachside London Fog tea in the middle of a cruel oceanic winter. Around the 1:40 mark, the storm hits, bringing in thundering percussion and tribal-like chants of “hey,” fogging up your glasses lenses as you scurry off the shore and back into your beach house to dry off. How to Dress Well respects the traditional aspects of R&B but Krell takes his own approach to the genre, a sort of proto-hipster-white-guy method, and thank god he does.
NOW, MUTE THIS VIDEO AND WATCH ALONGSIDE THE SONG.
The Shaggs. This sixties pop trio can never seem to catch a break. YouTube comments range from minor mockery like “someone tell the drummer what song they’re playing,” to clever abuse such as “perfect candy for brain tumors.” But I admire the band’s attempt. The band was born out of their father’s bizarre insistence; his mother had some sort of psychic premonition of stardom, so he bought his girls instruments and literally forced them to record music without having any wisdom whatsoever of the sound, theory, and technology of western music. Not even the most gifted musicians could have operated successfully under those conditions. Cowabunga Babes is an Austin, Texas based amateur beach pop collective that does not let their mediocre musical prowess get in the way of musical fusion. “Cranberries” is a one minute and forty-nine second ball of catchy bedroom jamming. Its teenage aesthetic and starry-eyed ambition are absorbingly fun and amusingly “twee.” The lyrics and melody flow like a Ronettes or Crystals song, telling the story of a lonely teenage girl looking for her Mr. Right. And granted, Cowabunga Babes are not the most talented, gifted, or even innovative group out there, but their “I’ll do what I want” philosophy is one hundred percent punk rock.
The catchy guitar pop of Lace Curtains takes me back a few years, back when the garage rock explosion was punching the blogoshpere with a vengeful fist. There are a couple of bands that reappear when I think about this sub-genre of garage revival; Harlem stands front and center in my mind. It won’t take long for those familiar with the Austin trio to recognize Lace Curtain’s vocals as Michael Croomer, the mastermind behind many of Harlem’s sweet and undeniably catchy jams. The DIY production is still present but the sound is smoother and cleaner. The song’s most gripping aspect is Croomer’s illustration of himself as a dynamic character. His lyrics initially contain a “dont-give-a-shit” attitude as he mocks his ex-girlfriend, but soon change to that of a drunken bar rat who nostalgically craves her presence. It’s a very relatable complex to the male race; there’s always that one girl you hate but love at the same time. Get ready to replay this song a hella lot; it’s truly one of the more memorable jams of 2012.