Archive | September, 2012

Hot Routes: Week Five

29 Sep

Editor’s Note:  This is the Swanky roundup of our top picks and songs of the week, running every week of the 2012 Year of Football.  For a primer, check out the Introduction.

Week Five

N.C. State (3-1) at Miami (3-1)

The pick:  Miami (-2)

The track:  Fall 4 U by Chad Valley

Chad Valley’s “Fall 4 U” finds a nice musical sweet spot between the already-neighboring worlds of 80’s synth-pop and early-90’s R&B.  This is the kind of jam that you can find yourself on the dance floor to, and/or that you would put on your Keith Sweat-inspired mixtape.

Clemson (3-1) at Boston College (1-2)

The pick:  Clemson (-7)

The track:  The Rifle’s Spiral by The Shins

Clemson is coming off a tough loss to Florida State, and they have a lot of incentive to bring the intensity to a game that might otherwise be considered a trap.  Just because Clemson lost to a Top 5 team doesn’t mean they can’t handle a weak ACC opponent.

South Carolina (4-0) at Kentucky (1-3)

The pick:  South Carolina (-20)

The track:  No Strings (RAC Mix) by Mayer Hawthorne

RAC bring the funk to Mayer Hawthorne’s already pretty funky song.  They also smartly keep some brass section touches and preserve the defiant come-on energy of the original track.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2)

The pick:  Bengals (-1)

The track:  Eyes Be Closed by Washed Out

The Jaguars are not a good football team, and Cincinnati is a decent one.  That’s what this comes down to.  It will probably be a gross, low-scoring clusterfuck, but the better team should eventually prevail.  And Cincy should win by at least a few points.

San Francisco 49ers (2-1) at New York Jets (2-1)

The pick:  49ers (-4.5)

The track:  My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Rust Never Sleeps is a great album that’s structured a bit different from the norm.  For one, it blends audio from both live and studio sessions, so that you can occasionally hear crowd noise on a track with some in-studio polish.  The other thing of note about the album is that it starts acoustic with some haunting, yearning, beautiful country soul, and then about halfway through becomes electric, with some dirty, ragged, searing rock energy.  Because of this different structure, we get two versions of the timeless song My My, Hey Hey – one acoustic and one electric.  The acoustic brings the heat with some harmonica that will break your heart.

New Orleans Saints (0-3) at Green Bay Packer (1-2)

The pick:  Packers (-7.5)

The track:  September (Alex Metric Remix) by St. Lucia

The Packers got jobbed last week and I’m saying that as a Seahawks fan.  They know they should have had a win, and they’re rightfully pissed.  They’re also upset because they haven’t been playing that well, and they need to start picking it up.  They’ll bring all of that pent-up energy to bear against a reeling Saints team.

Last Week’s Record:  4-2

Overall Record:  8-14

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FALL

27 Sep

[Editor’s Note:  Normally we approach our resident Steed about things we’d like him to write about, but earlier this week, we received the following over a series of several hundred text messages.  Apparently he was in a state he called Fall Heat, and just had to get it all out.  We transcribed as best we could.]

“A few nights ago, as I was out on my bi-weekly night jog, I felt the clammy grip of Indian Summer loosen up just a bit, allowing the brisk nip of Fall to sneak in and get a little face time for the first time in 2012.  This always happens at some point in September, and there are always a couple of cues right off the bat to indicate that seasons are changing.  The air burns just a little as it goes down your throat – a good burn that feels natural.  There’s a flush of red in your cheeks after you’ve been outside, and for the first time in several months, it’s not because someone passed you the SPF 5 Oil Bronzer and not the SPF 35 Sport like you fucking asked him to seven times.

No, it is because there’s a chill in the air that tingles when it hits your face – a tingle that increases as you realize that, yes, Fall has finally come again.

Whatever you want to call it – Fall, Autumn, Harvest, Autumnal Equinox – this time of year is always one that I greatly enjoy.  It always seems as if the September-October-November period is filled with nonstop events and activities, as if the Pause button that social life often hits-and-sticks during the long dog days of Summer is replaced by a vigorous push-and-hold of Play.

This might have a lot to do with the ritualized school schedule – whether you’re currently in school or spent most of your younger years getting acclimated to the school calendar, you know that the start of classes in late Aug./early Sept. is just a footnote to the onslaught of football games, tailgates, kegs in the leaves, homecomings, dances, festivals, holiday parties, etc.  All coming within a three month span.  There’s the best month of the year, Roktober, and the first (Halloween) and fourth (Thanksgiving) best holidays of the year.  Fall?  Or Foll – Full Of Life & Love?  Shit’s about to get crazy.  Here are some reasons why.

Football Season

The greatness of the football season should and does include both the NFL and College games, but for me, it’s really just about College.  That’s where the soft, keg-fueled core of my Fall Football lovin’ heart lives.  There isn’t much you can think of that beats a classic College GameDay Saturday – spending the early part of the day ‘gating and foolin’ with some fellow fans, building up a solid buzz off Schlitz and school spirit, getting asked to leave the library because you can’t do certain things in the bookstacks, joining the band-led procession to the stadium for the game, getting asked to leave the stadium because you can’t do certain things in the bathrooms, waking up on the intramural fields with no pants on and only six and a half more days to go until it starts all over again.  God I love College Football season.

Roktober

There is a difference between October and Roktober.  October isn’t bad – it’s a great sweet spot on the calendar right when Fall really gets going, and is often full of quaint pumpkin- and leave-dotted landscapes.  However on some years, if you know what you’re doing, all or at least most of October can shift into Roktober.  When it becomes Roktober, all bets are off.  The only thing that’s certain is that the party never stops during Roktober.  It just keeps going until it shudders to a gentle stop at some ambiguous date after Halloween.  It doesn’t matter what kind of event you’re partying at – all that matters during Roktober is that there’s a general fall theme to festivities, and that you’ll never be able to find a good reason not to keep partying.

You’ll be able to tell when you’re in full Roktober mode when you notice that you have four party events planned over the next four days as you’re just starting to piece together certain events of the last four days.  There is no stopping in Roktober, and why would you want to?  Just because you’re tired from the Oktoberfest “dinner” at your local Breu Haus doesn’t mean you want to miss out on that Pumpkin Carving + Shots get-together your cute neighbor is throwing tomorrow night.  Roktober is no joke, but you’ll be smiling the entire time.

Scarf for Two

The advent of the -er months comes with the previously discussed chillier weather.  And in most areas around the country, said chilly weather is combated by bundling up in more layers and warmer clothes.  (This bundling-up practice in itself is a welcome new habit after the sweaty nonsense of late summer – you can put that sweaty tank away and enjoy the self-important feeling you get as you suit up just for a short walk outside.)  There are times, however, when bundling up in just your own warm clothes is not enough to truly warm you where it counts.  These times often come when you find yourself spending some outdoors time with particularly alluring members of the opposite sex.

There just seems to be something in the Fall air that adds a little tingling sense of danger to the outdoor flirting process, and this understandably leads to a lot of emotionally charged situations.  You both get a little chilly, someone happened to bring more layers than the other person, and all of a sudden, you’re both hunched under one overcoat or sharing one short scarf, frantically hooking up to fight off the falling temperatures.  Fall(in)Love.  Get it?

Pilot Cancellation Season

I’m a very positive dude, and I usually don’t like to take pleasure in other people’s misery.  But there is a particular time during the Fall months when some strangers’ miseries make me a very happy camper.  This yearly event has its roots back in Pilot Season – or actually, a little before that.  For the unaware out there, Pilot Season is when all of the TV networks pick up the pilots of whichever shows they’re going to debut in the Fall.  Pilot Season is when many actors get their first big breaks, and as a budding thespian, it’s thus the time of year when I put my hopes and silver-screen dreams on the line.

If I happen to be in LA, then I’ll be out on the dirty-dog streets, getting my moneymaker out there and shooting whatever scripts they put in front of me.  If I can’t be in LA, which was the case this year, I’ll put together some sizzle reels of myself doing quirky sitcom-ready things and try to get it viral among the Tinseltown rainmakers.  No matter I’m doing, I’ve put my dreams on the line every year for the last several years.  And every year, nothing has happened.  No pick-ups, not even to a TLC mid-season replacement.  So every year, when the first new Fall show ads go up, it’s like a dozen little slaps to the face every time I turn on the TV or open up my latest issue of EW.  It’s brutal.

Every year, it’s almost too much to bear.  But then, just as I’m reaching for that Jag to soothe the pain – a glorious epiphany comes to me in the form of early-season TV show cancellations.  After a couple of weeks, execs realize their decisions on some shows not featuring me were wrong, and things start to get pulled off the air.  And my, is it a flood of renewed optimism in myself when I see all of those new slots start to open up for the next year’s Fall season.  I know that I’ll get another chance to make it big, and that if I had been on this year’s crop of freshly cancelled shows, they most definitely would not have gotten the axe.  Every cancellation season, I pour myself a cold Autumn seasonal brew and soak in the fresh chances that only Fall can bring.

Thanks for letting me air out this seasonal excitement sirs.  I’ll see you in Roktober.”

Hot Routes: Week Four

22 Sep

Editor’s Note:  This is the Swanky roundup of our top picks and songs of the week, running every week of the 2012 Year of Football.  For a primer, check out the Introduction.

Week Four

 

Vanderbilt (1-2) at Georgia (3-0)

The pick:  Georgia (-14)

The track:  This Must Be The Place (Viceroy Edit) by Talking Heads

Some remixes/re-edits are listenable based purely on the high quality/timelessness of the original track.  Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place” definitely fits the bill for timeless classic that you can’t hear enough, so Viceroy’s remix smartly goes the subtle route – not doing anything loud or bold to overshadow that incredible original hook, but adding enough tweaks and flair to bring out a version worthy enough to be included in the original’s musical aura.

 

Michigan (2-1) @ Notre Dame (3-0)

The pick:  Michigan (+6)

The track:  Don’t You Forget It by The Allah-Las

I’m allowing my distaste for the overrated Notre Dame squeezebox they call a football program to come into this pick, so be aware of some emotional bias.  But even without that overwhelming urge to fade the Irish, 6 points looks like an attractive amount for Michigan in this game, based on the Denards’ recent success against ND.  This is looking like a close game, perhaps coming down to 3 points or so.  Even if UM doesn’t win, they can get close enough.

 

Kansas State (3-0) at Oklahoma (3-0)

The pick:  Kansas State (+14.5)

The track:  Sleeping Ute by Grizzly Bear

K-State has looked surprisingly effective behind the do-it-all legs of Collin Klein, surging out to some lopsided victories early in the season.  So it’s a little bit unexpected to see that they’re such big underdogs against an Oklahoma team that has flown largely under the radar this season.  So unexpected that it makes me pause before snatching K-State as an underdog – almost too good to be true.  But that extra .5 point is huge, and shouldn’t be missed.

 

San Francisco 49ers (2-0) at Minnesota Vikings (1-1)

The pick:  49ers (-7)

The track:  Tessellate by alt-J

alt-J dropped their new  album this week, and it is a very interesting listen.  The sound underneath the chilly vocals is a constantly shifting composite of electronic touches, guitars both acoustic and electric, and pounding piano chords.  It’s never boring, and more than often is a compelling and propulsive experience.  “Tessellate” is a standout.

 

Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0)

The pick:  Cardinals (+2.5)

The track:  About That Life (Feat. Jahan Lennon) by Diplo

When one thinks of Diplo, one usually thinks of schizo electronic dancehall tracks that ride a nonstop wave of pure energy.  The prolific producer went in a whole new direction with his new release, the folky strummer “About That Life” with Jahan Lennon.  The result?  Acoustic is a good look on Mr. Lo.

 

Atlanta Falcons (2-0) at San Diego Chargers (2-0)

The pick:  Chargers (-3)

The track:  September by St. Lucia

Atlanta is traveling coast-to-coast on a short week, and they seem a little bit ready for a letdown after an emotional primetime win against Denver.  The Chargers so far have looked efficient and effective this season, so they may be in prime position to take advantage of a Matt Ryan-led disappointment.

 

Last Week’s Record:  1 – 5

Overall Record:  4 – 12

Personal Soundtrack

20 Sep

 

 

The Song

Busman’s Holiday by The Allah-Las

The Allah-Las wrap their surf-rock twang in a such a haze of lo-fi vintage effects that if a listener were to stumble across “Busman’s Holiday” on the radio dial, they’d most likely think it was some long-lost transmission from a beachside garage in 1963 California.  There has been a slight retro trend with new music lately – the raw bluesy sound of The Black Keys, the retro-soul of someone like Mayer Hawthorne – but The Allah-Las stand out a bit in that they seem to go all-in for the vintage sound, without worrying about keeping some contemporary touches or sounding like any kind of popular music from the last 30 years.

Their self-titled debut album also stands out in that the vintage sound is not just some hollow gimmick – on tracks like “Busman’s” the band lays down a rollicking groove while a lead guitar jumps and twangs over the top in tight little runs.  The ‘Lhs are playing this music like they own it.  The group plays most of their debut album with a locked-in rhythm, and each sonic element seems to find its own place in the beat without losing any of the ragged, rocking edge that lends everything a free-wheeling, garage-band mentality and momentum.  The end result is like the soundtrack to a lost Tarantino movie – smoky, twangy, weird, catchy, mysterious, belonging to a time that no longer exists.

The Activity

The fog is starting to roll in off the water, appearing on the night’s edge like some portentous spirit.  You don’t mind it, at least as long as it stays on the outskirts.  It signifies some clear air for once, and you take a deep breath of the night sky as you cruise down Ocean Ave.  On a night like this, you don’t mind that the drop-top on your Malibu has just gone on the fritz again.

The clear night sky is not enough to keep your mind off the task at hand for too long, however.  It’s impossible to forget why you’re here right now, and where you’re headed.  Why you’re so nervous that you’re currently halfway through your second joint of the too-short car ride.  Impossible to forget the woman waiting at the end of said car ride.

She’s your boss’ current girlfriend and your former girlfriend, although the aforementioned boss does not know about the aforementioned ‘former’ status.  All he knows is that he has some business to attend to, and he wants his trusty employee (you) to keep his lady happy by taking her out for a night out on the town.  He (the boss) is the kind of guy who has several current girlfriends at one time, in addition to a few future ones, so he doesn’t think too much about letting one of his (seemingly) random employees take out one of his flames for a casual night out.  He (the boss) figures that it’s the best way to keep these aforementioned flames happy and occupied so that they remain available when he needs them to be.

You haven’t seen this former girlfriend for awhile, but it’s not that part of the whole situation that’s got you nervous.  No, it’s the fact that anything can happen when you run into an old romantic interest of yours, and in this instance, if anything happens tonight, your boss is not someone you want to make angry.  He (the boss) is someone who makes his living in the world of crime, and someone who employs people like you to carry out his dirty work.  You’ve seen first-hand what the boss will do if someone gets on his bad side.  And if anything not 100% on the up-and-up goes down tonight between you and the current/former girlfriend (which it very well might, she’s unpredictable) then you will be in some hot water.

As you take the turn on Ocean and start the last leg of the trip, you can see the moon sparkling off the ocean to your left.  You’re headed to the ritzy, waterfront part of town.  With two joints in your head, your automatic weapon in the glove box, and a veritable femme fatale about fifteen minutes away from hopping in the passenger seat.  Oh, well.  This is the life you lead.  You turn the dial to K-BILLY, crank the volume, and wonder if Jack Rabbit Slim’s is still open.

 

Hot Routes: Week Three

14 Sep

Editor’s Note:  This is the Swanky roundup of our top picks and songs of the week, running every week of the 2012 Year of Football.  For a primer, check out the Introduction.

Week Three

Last week was a rough week for Hot Routes advice, as the danger of early-season prediction-making reared its head.  We dug a little hole for ourselves in the season win-loss column, but the long climb back to respectability begins anew in Week Three.

 

Florida (2-0) @ Tennessee (2-0)

The pick:  Tennessee (-3)

The track:  Monkey!!!Knife!!!Fight!!! by Minus the Bear

Tennessee has been playing solidly this season and look like they may be on a positive trend in the SEC behind some offensive playmakers.  They’ve got a good chance to continue impressing at home against a Florida team that has been underwhelming.

Talk around DS about Minus the Bear this week has led to yet another trip through the old school MtB music catalogues.  There’s a lot to like there, but first up is the punctuation-heavy “Monkey!!!Knife!!!Fight!!!” with its Seattle-friendly chorus about driving recklessly around a lake at night, with a romantic interest and a bottle of wine nearby.

 

USC (2-0) at Stanford (2-0)

The pick:  USC (-9)

The track:  Fine + 2 PTS by Minus the Bear

USC has been getting faded a bit lately by the national sports media for their recent play, which has admittedly been a bit uneven against some weak competition.  The Trojans will be considerably more motivated this week against Stanford however – Matt Barkley has yet to beat the Cardinal in his collegiate career, and he’s got a score to settle.  Lane Kiffin will oblige him.

The next old school Minus the Bear cut is “Fine + 2 PTS,” in which the seductive and charged instrumentation is mirrored and accentuated by lines that may have originated as bar napkin scribbles – “Dark eyes, dark hair / And looks that needed a song” – and everything builds to a furious climax.

 

Alabama (2-0) at Arkansas (1-1)

The pick:  Alabama (-20)

The track:  Tides by The xx

Arkansas has been reeling of late, if you haven’t noticed.  They lost their head coach in the offseason, their current coach just declared bankruptcy, and they just lost their starting QB.  Not an ideal time to take Bama’s gut shots.

The xx released their new album Coexist this week, and “Tides” is a choice cut.  Like a lot of xx songs, it packs an irresistibly sexy beat below its breathy exterior, and it gives listeners just enough of a taste before taking it away again – there’s no choice at that point but to play it again.

 

Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

The pick:  Vikings (-2.5)

The track:  Houseboat Babies (Chrome Sparks remix) by Reptar

The Vikings aren’t a great team, but they’re not a bad team by any means – especially when they’ve got a decently healthy Adrian Peterson.  Even though they’re at home, 2.5 points is too much respect for a young Indy team missing Dwight Freeney.

I don’t know what ‘houseboat babies’ are, but I do remember that the Vikings love their houseboat parties.  So perhaps they would know how to properly enjoy this funked-up remix from Chrome Sparks.

 

Oakland Raiders (0-1) at Miami Dolphins (0-1)

The pick:  Raiders (-2.5)

The track:  Ball and Biscuit by The White Stripes

This is another example of a bad team getting too many points in their favor at home, against a decent opponent.  Miami is worse than Indy, and they may very well be the worst team in the league.  Oakland should be giving at least 3 points.

I’ve been dipping back into old White Stripes albums lately, and “Ball and Biscuit” may be in the running for Top 1-3 Stripes songs.  It’s got the basic blues structure that Jack White throttles and makes his own, squeezing sexual heat of his guitar with every furious mini-solo.  When he says ‘Now you understand’ before ripping off another solo – we definitely do.

 

Baltimore Ravens (1-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)

The pick:  Ravens (-2)

The track:  Take This Up by Star Slinger

There’s the danger of an overreaction here – to Baltimore’s Stringer Bell-esque beatdown and to Philly’s Sweet Dee-esque shitshow in Week 1.  But Baltimore looks pretty legit this year, and I like them by at least 3 points.

Star Slinger’s newest track “Take This Up” features many elements seen before from the producer – sped up samples, a bouncing, party-friendly tempo.  This particular track seems to bump a little harder than their previous stuff, and it works well to flesh out the rest of the sound.  This is one that doesn’t need any remixing to be dance floor worthy.

 

Last Week’s Record:  1 – 5

Overall Record:  3 – 7

Question the Bear

12 Sep

Minus the Bear released  their newest album Infinity Overhead on August 28.  In case that sentence doesn’t make much sense to you, Minus the Bear is a Seattle-based band that has been around for 11 years, turning out 5 proper albums and a handful of smaller EPs releases over that time period.  The band was an early favorite in my life as a music fan, and as a result, I approached Infinity Overhead in a different way than I did other recent releases.  As my approach to the album was different, so too was my reaction upon first listen.

My reaction to this album was unique, and it was unique in a way that led me to question how I think about the music I enjoy, and about the artists I cite as long-held favorites.  It was a thought-provoking album, in a way that didn’t really have much to do with the substance of the songs themselves.

MtB’s music could be described in a very simplified way as electronic-tinged indie rock.  Their sound is predominantly based around a dynamic lead guitar line, which is usually leading the way as the songs shift between multiple time signatures.  Guitarist Dave Knudson loves his effects pedals, and his propensity for building melodic and haunting hooks out of guitar loops is one of the defining aspects of the group’s musical identity.  Another defining component would be frontman Jake Snider’s vocals, which are marked by his airy voice and lyrics that are both conversational and visually evocative.  Add in a synthesizer section of the band that will occasionally take front and center, and you start to get a feel for the unique sound that MtB has been creating for over a decade.

My introduction to MtB came about at some point in high school – the exact point in time has dissolved into the haze of the ambiguous teenage timeline.  I came across MtB mainly due to the fact that we both came from Seattle.  The band had built up a strong following among the local music scene at that point, and I had picked up on the buzz from friends who were more scene than I was.  As I started to explore the band’s music, my connection to their work developed to a level beyond just that of a shared hometown.  I was floored by the spiky melodies and propulsive emotions of the songs, and hook after hook got buried into my head.  Each MtB release that I came across seemed to offer something new to enjoy, and when I was finally able to get to a live show, the band met the raucous energy of the sweaty, sold-out club crowd head-on and exceeded expectations with a great set.

When MtB released their album Planet of Ice in 2007, I had already carried their music with me to college like a particularly meaningful piece of home, and the new songs only added to that piece.  Ice was an intriguing mix of songs that were particularly moody and seductive, and it seemed as if the band had found a way to expand their earlier sound without losing many of the core elements that had made them so compelling in the first place.  At this point, I would have confidently put MtB in a discussion of my favorite bands.  This was a sentimental inclusion into a large group, but still – they commanded my respect and appreciation as a fan.

After Planet of Ice was released in 2007, the next proper albums to come from MtB were OMNI in 2010, and then the record I mentioned earlier, Infinity Overhead.  Beginning with OMNI, my reception to the new MtB albums began to change a bit.  Rather than getting instantly hooked into each new batch of songs, I could feel myself having a much more subdued reaction.  With OMNI, the basic MtB sound was still intact – electronic flourishes, live-wire guitar lines, lyrical accounts of beautiful women encountered on rain-slicked city streets.  Largely missing, however, was a sense of immediacy and an edge to the music that I had found so alluring in the group’s previous releases.  It wasn’t that OMNI was a bad album.  It was a very solid album, and occasionally had moments or songs that hit the same emotional and musical themes that I had always loved about MtB.  There was just something mildly disappointing about the record, so that I found myself straining to really like it at times.  The spark just wasn’t there, as it had been before.

As OMNI faded away and Infinity Overhead approached, I didn’t know what to expect.  Well, I kind of knew, in the back of my head, but didn’t want to admit it.  I wanted MtB to do well – I felt as if I had an investment in their success, and as a music fan, I wanted to hear the band reach the same heights as they had on their earlier records.  After listening to Infinity a couple of times, I was discouraged to find that my initial wariness from OMNI had been justified.  Infinity sounds as if the group is definitely trying to grow their sound – expanding the scope with chiming guitar chords and broadening the subject matter of the lyrics so that there are less sections about a small moment at the back of a bar and more about the feelings behind universal topics like heaven and adulthood.  For me, at least, these efforts fall flat and a lot of Infinity sounds as if the group is trying too hard, or at least forcing an energy through that didn’t need to be forced before.  Again, like OMNI, this is not a bad record.  There is still a lot of enjoyment to be found from these songs.  But when I compare Infinity to the majority of MtB’s discography, I can’t help but be disappointed.

That disappointment bothers me, and leads to some questions.  Why, exactly, do I feel let down by MtB’s new songs?  Is it because of the musical quality, or is it because I can’t put my romanticized notions of the group to the side and just approach the album as its own separate piece of work?  Or am I not responding as fervently to Infinity just because I’m now at a different point in my life – namely, I’m growing up and firmly a member of the (young) adult world.  If my age and situation in life does have an effect on these new MtB records, does that mean that my admiration and attachment to the group’s earlier records had more to do with me than it did with the music itself?  And along these lines, were those early, beloved MtB tracks really all that good, or did they just come along at the right place and the right time, striking chords in me that could have been struck by any number of bands?  

Most of these questions call up the issue of my musical tastes, and the arbitrary nature of the whole music fan experience.  When it comes to the questions about my earlier affinity for MtB being defined more by my teenage self than by their actual music, it makes me wonder if someone could just decide to find a favorite band, and then manipulate their listening experiences so that eventually, whatever band they choose will, in fact, be the group that inspires the heady emotions and attachments that can be a part of music fandom.  I can see some ways that this arbitrary ‘favorite band’ decision could be possible.  If someone were to consistently and consciously play a band’s songs during moments of their life that they know will be memorable (teenage years, college, when you’re falling in love with someone) than those songs and that band will begin to take on a lot of emotional significance. There could be the same attachment that I have felt at times for MtB.  The fact that I love many MtB songs that I first listened to all through high school, and that I now have a tepid reaction to MtB songs that I’m listening to during adulthood could be construed as an extension of this arbitrary argument.

This, to me, is troublesome.  The idea that someone could consciously choose the music they will have a lifelong connection to, the music that they can always turn to at rough times for solace and inspiration, bothers me because it goes against what I believe about music in general.  I may be idealistic, but I believe that you can’t choose what songs will catch your ear and burrow into your emotions at any given time.  One of things I love about music is the way in which you can stumble across a song or artist purely by chance, and when you instantly feel a connection to their work, that ‘chance’ can seem like fate.  It brings some sense of magic and fate into a world that can at times seem to be lacking in these things.  You can allow yourself to think, if just for a second, that you were ‘meant’ to hear a certain song or artist because they could tell you something about life that you were missing.  The intangible, artistic strength and meaning behind great music (which early MtB was to me) is not something that can be manipulated or faked.  At least that’s what I believe.

To help momentarily settle my bit of music fan disquiet, I put the album that started all these questions –  Infinity Overhead – on pause, and went back to the older MtB releases that had initially drawn me in to the band.  I wanted to see if these older tracks would sound any differently now that I had heard the new releases and now that I had questioned the reasons I liked the band in the first place.

With MtB songs like “Fine + 2 PTS,” “I Lost All My Money At The Cock Fights,” and “Monkey!!!Knife!!!Fight!!!” it’s easy to see how my teenage self would have been drawn in right away.  A lot of these songs have a sexy, swaggering, and brooding edge to them, with a recurring theme of ‘fuck it, I’ll do whatever I want’ running throughout.  In that area, at least, the age at which I discovered MtB had an influence on how much I was attracted to the group’s music.  But you know what?  Even today, no longer a teenager, I can still feel those emotional themes surging through those old songs, and I can still get moved by them.  Both the lyrics and the compelling sounds behind the tracks are tapped into something that reaches the teenage self in all of us – the young self that never really goes away.  We all still have some of those raw, turbulent emotions inside of us, and MtB were great in the way they were able to put a voice to all of that.

Perhaps MtB’s new music isn’t firing the same spark inside of me because the band themselves grew up and grew away from those vibrant emotions they depicted so well.  A lot of artists have gone through the same process, trying to keep the emotional edge to their music as they concurrently try to mature it and use it to portray the new themes of their no-longer angst-driven young lives.  It’s a hard thing to do, and just because it may not be totally successful, that doesn’t mean it discounts the great earlier music that drew fans to that band in the first place.  When a body of work strikes you in the same way that MtB’s earlier work did to me, there is a much deeper reason behind that connection besides just being a teenager looking for music to rock out and emote to.  There’s a strong and talented artistic voice behind that kind of connection.  And that’s what Minus the Bear have.  No matter what they put out in the future, I’ll always be a fan of that unique voice.

Hot Routes: Week Two

7 Sep

Editor’s Note:  This is the Swanky roundup of our top picks and songs of the week, running every week of the 2012 Year of Football.  For a primer, check out the Introduction.

Week Two

The second week of Hot Routes welcomes the National Football League into the mix.  Making game predictions for the first couple weeks of football season is a dicey proposition, at least for the way I approach things, because the lack of in-game action makes it hard to get a good feel for the makeup of teams.  Every year, there are some teams that just don’t have ‘it’ – despite whatever hype they’re getting from the national media, you know they’ll crumble when it counts, or will get roundly beaten by a team no one saw coming.  And on the flip side, there are some teams that do have ‘it’ – an edge, a confidence, maybe just an overall feeling that things are going to break in their favor this year.

When you can find teams on both ends of the ‘it’ spectrum, whose true selves are preferably under the national radar, then that’s when you can start to build up a successful wagering run.  To find those teams, you need to pay attention to games.  Which we are currently in short supply of.  So let’s do the best with what we’ve got:

Oklahoma  State (1-0) @ Arizona (1-0)

The pick:  OK State (-11)

The track:  Clique by Kanye West, Jay-Z, Big Sean

The latest hard-hitting banger from Kanye’s upcoming G.O.O.D. Music album features a menacing beat underlying verbal boasts from Big Sean, Jay and ‘Ye.  As is becoming the norm, Kanye steals the lyrical show with his all-over-the-place third verse.  Mr. West covers being neighbors with Tom Cruise, muses on his own depression, and even dips into national security with a George Tenet name-check.  This particular clique offers a lot of entertainment value.

Also looking to provide some entertainment value is the match-up between Arizona and OK State in the desert.  OK State’s dismantling of Savannah State in their opener should be kept in perspective, but it at least serves as a reminder of the Cowboys’ ability to maintain their offensive firepower in 2012 even after the departure of QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon.  On the other side, Arizona has some offensive tricks of their own behind their enigmatic head coach Rich Rodriguez.  The problem for Arizona is that they still have a ways to go in the Rich-Rod era to match the explosiveness of OK State, and their defense most certainly won’t be able to contain the Cowboys for very long.  Arizona might score some points, but I don’t think they can come within two touchdowns.

 

Nebraska (1-0) @ UCLA (1-0) 

The pick:  Nebraska (-5.5)

The track:  Angels (Shiny Objects Rework) by The xx  

The xx are favorites for remix artists, and that’s been especially apparent in the run-up to their new album Coexist.  The new tracks are great, and assorted artists have rushed out to put their own spins on minimalist slow-burners like “Angels”.  One such artist is Shiny Objects, who made a play-date with “Angels” and brought their synthesizers along with them.  The result is a funky, pounding groove straight out of a 1980s teen slasher flick.

On the game side of things, it can be tough to get behind either team in this one.  You’ve got QB Taylor “Tribal Tat” Martinez with Nebraska, and then the overall ‘bleh’ factor that is Jim Mora, Jr. and recent UCLA football history.  I’ll take the Cornhuskers – Tribal Tat Martinez looks like he’s a much-improved player this season, and Nebraska looks like they can make a decent amount of noise in the Big 10 this year.  UCLA is getting way too much credit for beating up on Rice, and Nebraska should be favored by at least a touchdown here.

 

Wisconsin (1-0) @ Oregon State (0-0)

The pick:  Wisconsin (-7)

The track:  Lyrics To Go (Tumblin’ Dice Remix) by A Tribe Called Quest

Wisconsin smashed on Oregon State early last season to the tune of 35 – 0.  And yes, that was in Wisconsin, and they had current NFL phenom Russell Wilson behind center.  But Oregon State is still Oregon State, and Wisconsin is still too good of a team to not put a hurting on the Beavers.  Wisconsin will also be coming in to this game with the extra motivation of proving that their underwhelming performance in the season opener was just a fluke.

After a (presumably) rough beating at the hands of Wisconsin, Oregon State players can at least look forward to a nice little Saturday/Sunday relax sesh.  They can rehab their various bumps and bruises, burn some of that Oregon green, and vibe out to the jazzy goodness of Tumblin’ Dice’s take on “Lyrics To Go.”

 

Georgia (1-0) @ Missouri (1-0)

The pick:  Missouri (+110)

The track:  Earthforms by Matthew Dear

Taking a bit of a chance with this game.  On paper, Georgia should be the favorite, and since the spread is only 2 points at the time of this writing, that should appear to be the best pick.  Georgia, however, seems to be a bit overrated this year.  For whatever reason they’ve been given a lot of respect despite not having a great track record in tough games over the last couple of years.  Missouri, on the other hand, is going to be incredibly fired up at home, in their first game as a member of the SEC.  Things are going to get straight bananas in that stadium on Saturday, and Georgia is going to have to step up and handle it.  I’m putting my (fake) money on Missouri riding that home-field emotion.

If Missouri is in need of some extra half-time entertainment on Saturday, they could always turn to Matthew Dear.  “Earthforms” sounds as if Dear has been going through some of his old Fatboy Slim records lately.  The track rides a tight little bass line and could soundtrack a dance scene in any number of teen comedies from the mid-90s.  Just get some high schoolers, some choreographed dance moves, and you’ve got yourself some mid-game entertainment.

 

Arizona Cardinals (0-0) @ Seattle Seahawks (0-0)

The pick:  Seahawks (-3)

The track:  Disappear Always by Wild Nothing

Moving over to the first week of the NFL, this first game up between the Seahawks and the Cardinals looks almost too good to be true.  The Hawks are riding a lot of momentum from a preseason in which they looked good on both sides of the ball and found themselves a breakout star QB in Russell Wilson.  The dark horse contender buzz around Seattle is steadily building.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals dragged their feet in deciding to go with John Skelton as the starting QB over Kevin “party ‘stache” Kolb, giving a clear signal to everyone that either option is not ideal.  The rest of the team doesn’t look very promising either.

The NFL picks this week are going to be tracked by two songs from Wild Nothing’s recently released album, Nocturne.  This album is a great collection of blissfully rocking tunes.  A standout section comes with the two-track swing of “Disappear Always” and “Paradise.” “Disappear” starts things off with a shimmery electric guitar line that propels itself forward into an instrumental breakdown before giving way to “Paradise,” an expansive track that features a strummed guitar hook distilled from the pure essence of Sunny Beach Days.  Nocturne looks to be a welcome weekend soundtrack choice.

 

Miami Dolphins (0-0) @ Houston Texans (0-0)

The pick:  Texans (-13)

The track:  Paradise by Wild Nothing

It’s normally a risky move to go with large spreads in the first week of the NFL season.  The 2012 Miami Dolphins, however, have a had a pretty rough preseason and have had most of it played out on Hard Knocks.  The leaders of the organization did not look particularly effective in their TV appearances, and the poor team performance in preseason games only emphasized the downtrodden vibe surrounding the team on the eve of the regular season.  When Chad Johnson, the mouthy receiver who just got arrested for a disturbing domestic violence incident and who is no longer on an NFL roster, comes across as one of the more compelling characters of your franchise’s preseason, you’re in trouble.  The Dolphins are in for a rough season.

Still shimmying to Wild Nothing.

Last Week’s Record:  2 – 2

Overall Record:  2 – 2

Personal Soundtrack

6 Sep

The Song

Chinatown by Destroyer

Seeped in atmosphere and packed with disparate yet vivid imagery, “Chinatown” provides one of those listening experiences in which you’re still trying to figure out what you just heard as you’re pressing ‘repeat’ for the third straight time.  And after a few days of first hearing it, snatches of chords or lyrics from the song will find their way into your head like a half-remembered moment from a long and hazy night out on the town.  There are all kinds of musical ideas and melodic runs bouncing around “Chinatown” – from the smoky brass section to the electric flourishes to the Bowie-esque vocals – and yet against all odds they coalesce into a catchy piece of pop/rock.

The unique flair of “Chinatown” is present all over Destroyer’s most recent album Kaputt and it often feels as if Dan Bejar, the man behind Destroyer, has found a way to record all of his music in exactly the same manner as which it sounds in his head.  No self-censoring, no drawing within the lines.  Just plug in the mic and go to some strange, noir-ish, lovesick cityscape.  It’s a totally different sound than anything you’ve heard in a long time.  It can take you places if you go with it.

The Activity

You should have known the dame was trouble from the moment she walked into your office, dragging on that cigarette and batting those lashes at you like she had no idea the damage they were causing.  You should have known that her whole story was fishy from the start.  That there was something going on, something underneath those smoky eyes and pouting lips that did not bode well for anyone who got involved.  Something that you, as the experienced Private Dick you are, should probably pay attention to.  And yet, you got involved.

You took the case – took it hook, line, and sinker.

There was the tailing of the husband, the skulking in shadows while you looked for evidence of the cheating habits she tearfully told you about.  There was the eavesdropping on the young girls in the bars – maybe in on it, maybe not – who she assured you were the Other Women.  One of which, she proclaimed breathlessly, would be the one that the husband would eventually bolt for.  And finally, there was the break-in of the husband’s so-called Love Pad.

He, the husband, was supposed to be out on the town when you slipped in.  As a result, you weren’t as cautious as you would have been.  You didn’t bother checking the area out before you used the key she gave you to open up the door and come waltzing right in.  Your fingerprints were – are – all over everything.  A fact that became much more important when you turned on the light in the living room of this so-called Love Pad and found the husband lying right where she left him.

The husband was just sitting there, shot through the chest with your gun – you missed that part too – and unable to do anything as she took all their cash and high-tailed it out of town.  You weren’t able to do anything either, at first, as you stood there and realized what had gone down.  That you were the mook set up to take the fall in this sordid tale, as the lady in black disappeared into the night.

That was at first though.  As you took your leave of that Love Pad and collected your thoughts, you got a little of that old flair back.  Those old smarts that have kept you alive in this city for so many years.  You took a moment to do some investigating, and found out where she was hiding.  Where you’re standing right now, smoking in the halo of the streelamp, as you wonder what to do next.  Where things always end up.

Chinatown.