Cabildo Quarterly #12, summer 2018 is available now! With new writing from Kaylee Duff, Timothy Berrigan, Kelli Stevens Kane, William Repass, Kurt Morris, Paula Coomer, Daryl Gussin, Margaret Emma Brandl and Howie Good. Click here or get at us for hard copies.
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I review Jason Buchholz's debut novel "A Paper Son" for Cabildo Quarterly.
Trophy Wife: All The Sides
We’re told, or led to believe, that in the end, it’s all just a huge pile of content, sitting there, waiting. The playing field has been leveled; the opportunities are endless. The landfills, however, are not. They beckon and plead: fill me.
The result – the symptom – is frontloading, getting the hook up front to grab attention. Because no one has an attention span any more, we’re told. Because everything is available to everyone at all times, no one gives a shit about anything, and we’re becoming zombies, sleepwalking through our day trying to kill content. Annihiliate this stream, this viral video, all week long.
But it’s bullshit is the thing. There’s evidence everywhere: unlikely comebacks, TV series sprawling out over six, seven seasons, killing cliché as they develop characters to be considered outside (and far away) from a 22-minute frame, serial podcasts, you name it. The diagnosis that we’re dulled by and slave to the stream of content perpetuates itself when we buy in – but the increasing realization that the quick-hit simulacra is bogus is just over the horizon and easily visible with a few steps closer. Artists who eschew the quick fix in favor of nuance and authenticity and the long haul are those few steps.
And just over that horizon is Trophy Wife, with All the Sides, their third long-player. This Philly two-piece painstakingly crafts their mini-epics of bombast and nuance, and they do it by (get this) listening to each other. By spending time in the practice space focusing on how many times, how loud, how this part drops out so this other part can kick in. It sounds simple because it is, but it can’t always be: guitarist Diane Foglizzo and drummer Katy Otto are both sick players, able to stop on so many dimes, drop oddly timed phrases in and out with nary a seam, and twist distortion into contemplation (and vice versa). I can imagine how easy it might be to just go off and let the sparse arrangement pick up the metaphorical slack. But nope. Both members realize throughout that they’re halves of a greater whole, and through this understanding – through servicing the songs they write, at the expense of going off or over – they show listeners that patience is rewarded, that things come together over time, and that music, despite the new economy or whatever, does not have to be disposable to be noticed. It can be heartfelt and passionate and difficult and no less rewarding.
Audrey’s Song is a perfect embodiment of everything Trophy Wife does well: picked single notes yield to sheets of distortion, as Foglizzo and Otto’s vocals buzz, conjoin, and fly away; toms roll, measures drop and reappear seemingly on their own accord. It’s affecting stuff which rewards repeated listens, which is what the band wants, more than a quick hit. This is long haul stuff, the fragility and empowerment of sustenance.
Michael T. Fournier
“Yell Boss” (Don Giovanni Records)
I just read “Doctor Sleep.” I still check in with Stephen King when his books materialize on the library’s new release shelf– this one finds the kid from “The Shining” struggling to overcome alcoholism as other demons, the supernatural kind, swirl around a psychic teen in a small New Hampshire town. I can safely file this tale in the “pretty good” column, not a book in which the protagonist winds up in a mystical, imagined land speaking a semi-phonetic language to vanquish a supernatural foe.
So yeah, Dan Torrance hits his rock bottom, and starts attending AA meetings. And there it is, plopped into an otherwise unassuming paragraph:
“He’d wake up thirsty and miserable—wanting—which wasn’t.”
Ol’ Steve has professed his love for punk rock many times over the years, but goddamn, Stephen King must be into Black Flag.
Pool-pissers everywhere might beg to differ, citing coincidence: after writing so many words, it’s a near-inevitability that the guy would say something, sometime, which sounded like something else. And that’s fine. I can see it. Maybe he managed to nail the chorus Dezzo (and, later, Hank) barked out so well because the lyrics draw from the particular well of human experience from which Stephen King has experienced, and so publically discussed. It’s possible.
But why would you want to warm up a pool like this? Goddammit, isn’t it more fun to think that it was an Easter egg dropped in there? Lord knows I do that sort of thing all the time – shades of blue, in my books, are bruise-colored; the biggest jerks are always names Richard Johnson. Nods, both.
“Yell Boss,” the new full-length by Black Wine, is a dynamic record, but not a record which relies solely on dynamics. Take “No Reason,” which starts off hammering down math for just long enough to trick you into thinking it’ll be a syncopated neck acher – and instead, a snaky lead as backdrop to drummer Miranda Taylor’s fuzzed vox. It’s a neat trick: the juxtaposition of parts and personalities winds up being more jarring and effectual than the intro duh-duh-duhduh threatens. Plus, you know, it rocks.
“Rime” trumps “No Reason” in terms of sheer whip-snapping oomph: the chug contained in the opening salvo “Komrades” is reprised, daring you to look up from your phone and headbang – to have fun, the way band obviously is, with their three-part vocal harmonies. Its heft gains velocity after propelling out of a weird, gentle feedback intro, vocals subdued and sing-songy, better suited to the nursery than the pit.
And to end the record, the tom-heavy verses of “Love Chain” form a backdrop for downright spooky Faith-era Cure guitar before the band gleefully pushes the atmosphere aside to bash out a kickass ascending two-ton figure. Then it ends. The song, the record. Over. Awesome.
I thought these cats were at the height of their craft even before the second-to-last song spun under the needle. Again: heavy, with great poppy vocals and Superchunk-y guitar leads straining through the din. Thing is, the prechorus rolled in, and a vocal line sent me back to age eight, driving around in the back of my parents’ Rabbit, listening to the radio. “No Time” – of course. The Guess Who. Bad rock critic!
But their cover, in my zillion subsequent listens, reinforces what I think is the overall point. The signifiers are all there, the little nods and full-throated howls to the band’s many influences. I remember the first time I saw them play, acoustic in a New Jersey basement—they played another song I know from driving around with my parents as a kid: “Windy,” by the Association. Of course, they nailed it.
Such is the way of Black Wine – each of the three band members brings their particular sonic palette and blueprint to the table, add their own contributions, sand off (or, to be fair, tack on) rough edges, and the alloyed final product is set loose. Sometimes the nods are there. And who the hell knows whether the bits that I’m hearing in there are intentional – maybe these cats don’t even like the Cure, you know? But I believe this band, and I trust them. And even if you’re peeing in my pool, telling me that they can’t possibly be as smart and musical and intentioned as I think, it’s more fun to believe. Especially now, when everyone is too worried about being cool and well-versed to actually like stuff. To be a fan. Fuck that. I’m in. And if you’ve got beef, I won’t invite you to listen to “Damaged” with me and Stephen King.
Michael T. Fournier
What’s your damage?
The artistic process is a driven one, and often, the driver is some trauma. The particular driver of Slint — the legendary Louisville quartet that spawned as many bands as it did hyphenated attempts at finding a genre to explain its particular brand of precise, lurching,…
Since my book on the Minutemen’s album “Double Nickels on the Dime” was published in 2007, I’ve always known when it was pitch season for the 33 1/3 series because friends – and friends of friends, and complete strangers – have written to me asking for help and advice. This year’s deadline is fast…
Review: “Elastic Smile,” by Great Western Plain
Molly and Leopold Bloom, at the end of Ulysses, curled up in the bed all yin-yang style amidst a mess of kicked-off covers, after Joyce has put the reader through the wringer of shifting styles and narrative tones.
That book was a slog, often infuriating, yet it’s still considered one of the greats. This leads, of course, to the question: What do we want as an audience? I wonder about it sometimes, as I talk to my classes about music, or try to. By turn, they either have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention something I think is obvious or surprise me when the obscure gags I think I’m making for my own amusement somehow work. AC/DC flies over their heads, but Gainesville pop-punk sticks. I can’t figure it out.
I think it has something to with the way we listen to music. It’s fragmented into videos, ringtones, whatever, and then, in optimal cases, reassembled – either that or it’s just aped. Sometimes it’s with purpose and intention, others it’s just because “hey, I bet we can do ________.” You know this.
Both have pros and cons, certainly. And make no mistake: I love seeing few-and-far-between bands that sound like Boys Life or whoever. I ‘ve listened to all the bands playing in the emo revival looking for credible swipes of my late-90’s, pre-Dashboard rustbelt favorites. But I’m coming to understand that the same criteria still apply now as did in the past: it’s way more fun, and more rewarding, to follow trajectories rather than always looking for the New Thing.
This review comes in a week where Brick Mower’s stuff is getting some prerelease buzz, and Mark Kozelek is finding another peak in his twenty-five year cycle. It’s great: already six weeks into the year and awesome new records are popping up at a manageable-but-intense rate (or is it the other way around?). It’s nice, too, that bands I like are involved, because ultimately, despite the contentmongers and Upworthy hooks and screaming demands for clicks, this is all about conversation. The generalist in me tries to keep half an eye on everything so that I can talk to far-flung friends in bars about the latest flame, but what I really want to do is argue about the way things have evolved (rather than the way things have changed – there’s a difference).
So the fourth official release by Portland ME’s Great Western Plain fit right into this conversation: their career (though they would probably never call it that) scattered across boring miles of highway and and umpteen other bands, is easily recognizable as self-contained even as it shifts. Certainly there’s Tim’s guitar tone, which is both inviting and every bit as brittle as that Lloyd-y bit in “Kidsmoke,” and there’s Tony, who musta sank cash into both drumhead stock and supernumerary research for all the ferocity with which he pounds away back there, and there’s Mikey P with basslines conjured straight outta WMA, a fleece dream (see what I did there?) of Dinosaur and Sebadoh.
But there’s the progression, too, despite the familiarity. Their first one, “Moustache Eye Patch,” was shambly and seemingly held together by so much duct tape and the centripedal force of accelerating ideas, a less smug “Wowee Zowee.” From there it was the primal scream therapy of “Don’t Cook Off The Alcohol” to this past summer’s “Lure and Kitsch/Flutter And Slack,” which refined their pop process and shed some of the earlier tropes – Tim, for one, abandoned (or perhaps stepped out from behind) the nasal twang of the previous recs, now (really) singing in a breathy, direct drawl.
Turns out that the summer’s terse pop gems were just the hook, the lure into the suckerpunch foreshadowed by the “Youth of America”-ish sprawl of December’s (wait for it…) “Wipers” single. “Elastic Smile,” as is turns out, works to both negate and reinforce the previous records: the familiar tones and extra limbs and fuzz are all still there, but with different intent. This is announced right up front in “Thom,” perhaps a nod to the departed (to New York) guitarist of the late, lamented Whip Hands: twelve minutes influenced as much by the holy trio of Faust, Neu! and Can as by any of the previously namedropped acts. Sure, this is recognizably the same Great Western Plain, but hold it up against “Alcohol,” say, and the difference is staggeringly declared: we were there, and it was cool, but now we’re here – deal with it.
Not to say there’s no hooks here –the twentysomething riot of “Buhrlynn in a Rainy Day” is rife with ‘em, both vocally and musically, and the fourth-floor walk-up “Lights are Loud” is a yeastie swagger, to name two. And not to say it’s change for the sake of it. These records document purpose and intention. They’re part of the band’s evolution, incessant and honest, as they ingest and synthesize ideas. It’s no coincidence that a bassline which sounds not entirely unlike a break from the Minutemen’s “Glory of Man” ends the record – if you’re listening closely, you’ll recognize it as the same bassline that begins “Thom.” You know that trick, right? “Double Nickels” uses it. So does “Infinite Jest.” It’s commitment to progression, a Mobius strip: Molly and Leopold Bloom, at the end of Ulysses, curled up in the bed all yin-yang style amidst a mess of kicked-off covers, after Joyce has put the reader through the wringer of shifting styles and narrative tones.
Michael T. Fournier
See ‘em on tour: 2/14/2014 @ The Candy Barrel, New Brunswick, NJ
2/15/2014 The Holy Undergroundnderground, Baltimore, MD
2/16/2014 @ Nacho House, West Phily, PA
2/17/2014 @ The Dunes Washington, DC
2/19/2014 @ The Silent Barn Brooklyn, NY
2/20/2014 Kristina’s World, Providence, RI
2/21/2014 @ Hotel Vernon Worcester, MA
2/22/2014 @ The Monkey House Winooski, VT
2/23/2014 @ The Whitehaus Family Record JP, Boston, MA
I tried everything in my formative music years. No, not like that – get your mind out of the gutter. What I’m talking about here is styles, genres. My fanzine reading, the real entrée into punk rock, was as broad as I could make it – it was cheaper, after all, to read zines than to buy records blind as we waited for bands to come to New Hampshire (or tried to bum rides to Boston). Sometimes it was consensus amongst the swath, or sometimes it was some trusted arbiter throwing out a recommendation. Get burned a few times and pull names from the list; hit a few out of the park and keep reading.
You know it goes: listening, after a time, becomes vetting. Screaming no, time changes yes, melody please. The sweet spot, the wheelhouse, is hard to pin down, but it’s there. Or was there, anyway – the very specific brand of band that makes me sit up and say “this is exactly it,” I thought, was exclusively a thing of the past. Or so I thought until this band Minutes blipped across my radar screen. Goddamn.
The specifics of what makes this band so good are many. This is cerebral music, certainly, but the band is unafraid to wear many hats: “In Your Own Fuel” is a straight-charging, four-on-the-floor pounder, all party rock and cymbals, widened in scope by dual vox and a subtle guitar line sneakily snaking behind it all. This duality is at work throughout the rec: Minutes knows, and loves, the vocal trick where the sung vocals are deadpanned while the backing vocals are shouted, behind, in a higher pitch for extra emphasis, as in “Boxes.” “I’ve Learned To Roll,” manages to play simultaneously languid and taut thanks to a guitar line which wouldn’t sound out of place on the Instrument soundtrack. “All Is For The Best” feels like Sonic Youth suddenly unconcerned with distortion or alternate tunings. And “Raise Our Fists Up!” Seriously one of the songs of the year all year: anthemic without being an anthem, tight dueling guitars forming notes where there are none, and that abrupt end, another trick the band knows and loves – get in, say it, and get out. (Minutes – get it?) If you hear some DC in your Kalamazoo, you’re right, as Ryan Nelson, he of Most Secret Method, one of my favorites, is here.
The only negative here is that the band has been around for a while, and I missed them. Don’t make the same mistake.
Michael T. Fournier
Hurricanes of Love: “Quintorian Blues” 2x LP (Feeding Tube Records)
You can’t blame me for being initially skeptical of the Hurricanes of Love.
I first encountered HoL when I went to a house show a few days after I painted the name of my 80’s throwback hardcore band — in Crass-y stencil…
before they bloom
that softens in the sun
the heart not listening
for the unexpected
Song of Another
On the days when I am not myself, I am
my aching face, my injured foot, my swollen…
Our foes are in our midst and all about us.
—Henry David Thoreau
Someone was found dead after someone in a turban stepped out of an alley.
Someone knew someone recited the Qu’ran in her basement at night.
Someone knew someone borrowed sugar from a Muslim.
Someone told someone to mind her own…