It Is What It Is! or Silversun Pickups – Better Nature

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For better or worse, every band / artist and their music is a giant work in progress (except maybe AC DC – but that’s another story altogether). With age and aspiration they evolve and some fans grow with a band and some go in other directions. Better Nature is not its predecessors. Gone is “early 90’s alternative” atmosphere that fans loved on earlier releases Carnavas and Swoon and in its place is the synth/guitar mix being used by many of today’s popular ‘indie-rock’ artists. The result is something more slick and expansive, ‘shoegaze with synth support’ if you will, rather than the passion driven two minute wonders found in their mid 2000’s releases (ie. Carnavas’ “Lazy Eye”).

That isn’t to say Better Nature isn’t a really good record – because, well, it is… but…

Silversun Pickups are at their best when the pedal is down and caution is thrown to the wind, and Better Nature is all about structure… which leads us into a little bit of a contradiction.  It seems producer Jacknife Lee is trying to turn Silversun Pickups into Adore era Smashing Pumpkins, and believe me, that isn’t a compliment. It’s great for artists to experiment with sounds, but only when the songs really call for it. In this case, production and layering has taken the place of rocking out.

Lead single “Nightlights” is a good case in point. It starts with a great riff as a song that one can blast loud, but then, it changes course and does all these slow down and layered guitar things that bog down the last minute. Rather than keeping urgency with the heavy guitar, it becomes an act of ‘listen to these cool sounds over here!’ In other words, it becomes a little too indulgent to carry the momentum of song through to its conclusion.

There is a lot to like here as the songs on Better Nature all have pretty cool grooves at their core; however they tend to get lost underneath their own sonic waves. Perhaps their evolution is still in between two places, or maybe, as a fan, they’ve just gone in a direction where I can’t follow, but Silversun Pickups have created a good record that might have been great.

I Need A New Drug or Ten Great Alt-Rock Documentaries pt1

For all us obsessed music fans who love to dig deeper into the psyche of our favourite bands, documentaries are the gold mine that allow that little peek. Of course, don’t scratch too far beneath the surface or you might rub away some of the sheen.

  1. Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements

How do you tell a story about a band without their music, archival footage or band participation? Color Me Obsessed answers the question by having fans, critics and obsessed music geeks tell the story of the world’s most contrarian band.

 

  1. Smashing Pumpkins: If All Goes Wrong

After the debacle that was the Billy Corgan solo record, filming began on If All Goes Wrong. This 2007 film sees Corgan resume the Pumpkins name with only Jimmy Chamberlain coming back in the fold. Surprisingly, the audiences in the film are indifferent towards new material causing Corgan to wonder about artistic expression and commercial success.

 

  1. Upside Down: The Creation Records Story

One part bands, another part attitude Creation records gets a worthy and shocking documentary. Not only does it feature the story of some Brit-pops best bands, but also how the vision and overwhelming hubris of one man, Alan McGee whose own trials saw the rise and fall of a very influential independent record label.

 

  1. DIG! (Dandy Warhols & Brian Jonestown Massacre)

Decried as more fiction than documentary by the bands involved, DIG! has absolute Spinal Tap moments with band disagreements and so-called ‘dust ups’ that leave no one unscathed. Two rival bands attempting to rise above obscurity in the midst of rockstar excess without the benefit of having been rockstars first.

 

  1. The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks

Chronicling the history of the self proclaimed “art-rock” band whose origins go back to the 70’s, director Bradley Beesley films the band over a fifteen year span covering from 1990 until 2005. The evolution of a band from “no talent garage rockers” to “alt-rock pioneers” is both frightening and life affirming.

“Rock Star” not “Pop Star” or Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

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Outside of Courtney Barnett, no one has received the tremendous pre-release expectations that Wolf Alice has with the lead up to My Love Is Cool. Dropping new singles every few weeks has helped to build momentum and gather fan support for the album. The result is that Wolf Alice is seeing print in almost every music mag and newspaper for today’s release… but does it hold up?

Well actually, it doesn’t disappoint.

Built around strong guitar work and soaring vocals, Wolf Alice bridges the gap between the 90’s alt-rock revival and the more modern Brit-Rock led by the Arctic Monkeys and their recent disciples Royal Blood. Subtle whispers turn to moments of shoegaze before exploding into an all out “throw your hair around and play air guitar” press as “Giant Peach” blasts out.

“Bros” starts with a Juliana Hatfield Three rhythm before going all “1979” Smashing Pumpkins as if Tanya Donnelly (Belly) was singing. The thing is, Wolf Alice isn’t playing at nostalgia but instead inhabits a space that fits in well with the narrative of ‘rock star’ rather than the dreaded ‘pop star’. When “You’re A Germ” lets the slow verse flare into the heavy chorus of screams and thundering guitar, the impression is that these guys play music that makes them want to ‘rock out’ along with their listeners. Just when you think you’ve pegged their sound, “Your Love’s Whore” throws in a groove that flies into Soundgarden mixed with a Dandy Warhols’ feel. Then you get “The Wonderwhy” which drones on with a buzz that is simultaneously terrifying and mesmerizing.

My Love Is Cool on first listen might sound very 1994, but with each subsequent spin you discover new reasons to forget the past and enjoy the moment. For Wolf Alice, that moment is now and be prepared, you’re going to be hearing a lot more from them.

My Love Is Cool is released on June 23.

 

 

The Best Album of 1993 or Liz Phair – Exile In Guyville

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Some records are great sounding and personal. Some records are great sounding and important. Then there was Exile In Guyville which was all that and so much more. 1993 was an awesome year for music seeing releases by Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Breeders, U2, Belly, Porno For Pyros, Sloan, The Cranberries, Blur, Counting Crows, PJ Harvey and so many more. All those records and yet Spin and the influential Village Voice both picked Guyville as the number one record of the year.

It wasn’t just that Phair was writing about sex as bluntly or as graphically as any ‘guy’ had before her. It wasn’t just that a so-called feminist view hadn’t been placed in music to the extent that she now had. It was that Exile In Guyville had seventeen kick-ass songs that talked about the female experience without having to make proclamations. This wasn’t Helen Reddy singing “I Am Woman” or Courtney Love warning you that “someday you will ache like I ache.” Instead Phair’s vocals are so matter of fact you feel that anger and sarcasm would be out of place. These are the stories of women in love, lust, distress and having sex told in a style where shock seems both out of place yet warranted.

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Spin recently ranked the Top 300 albums since 1985 and Exile In Guyville ranked #7. The only albums to rank Higher were:

Radiohead – OK Computer

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead

Daft Punk – Discovery

Prince – Sign O’ The Times

Wu Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang

Nirvana – Nevermind

Quite the company eh!

So when I talk about wanting to have not only albums I love, but also essential albums in my vinyl collection – Guyville fits both bills.

Strangely, Exile In Guyville has only two vinyl options. The original 1993 Matador release came with two basic black vinyl discs and an insert detailing the album info. You can find used copies on the internet for about $50.00.

In 2008, ATO Records released a 15th anniversary edition that was re-mastered and placed on two 180 gram vinyl pieces. With them also came a bonus 7” of unreleased B-sides and a copy of the re-mastered CD. Oddly, the reseller markets are asking over $60.00 for the 2008 reissue. It is still available at local record stores and online retailers for much less.

If you haven’t heard it – listen here. Then BUY IT!

Please Billy … or William… Whatever, Just Shut the ^%$& Up! Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

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A very long time ago I learned that you had to separate the artist from the art. Let’s face it, some of today’s biggest talents are, um, ah… well, afflicted with acute asshole disease. ‘Smack talk’ amongst themselves (other celebrities) is generally the first sign that they need help, but it just doesn’t stop there. Take Jack White; first he starts dissing Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys for “stealing his sound” and then he publically goes after Meg White who is soft spoken, shy, and knows will never say anything back. (He would later apologize for both.) Of course there are dozens of other instances, let’s not forget “rider-gate” a few weeks ago, but let’s get to Billy.

A couple months back mister Corgan was quoted as saying that Kurt Cobain was his only peer, and that everyone else just basically sucked in comparison. Then he anointed himself king by pointing out that his he had a more ‘enduring body of work’ than Pearl Jam. As if that wasn’t enough, he went on a tirade about how much better he was than Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, this despite the fact that the Pumpkins haven’t released a relevant album since the 1990’s. Then only a week or two ago, an audience broke out into “Happy Birthday” during his show. Instead of simply taking the compliment, he chastised them because he wants to be called “William” now.

Now first off, over the long history of the Pumpkins, I’ve got to give Corgan props. He has always tried to give his fans something to cheer about in terms of releasing B-Sides and collectibles across various formats over the years. Hell, seven years before Radiohead dropped In Rainbows to fans in a “pay what you want” initial campaign, Corgan put out Machina II/The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music over the internet for free. So in terms of fan treatment as a business decision, he mostly gets it. But in actual live situations… where a microphone sits in front of him for the purpose of talking…

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Well, William – Dude… of all the 90’s era rock acts I have ever seen, I only walked out on 1 – The Smashing Pumpkins at Lollapalooza. I went expecting a great show by your band. Believe me, L7, The Breeders, George Clinton, and the Beastie Boys brought it that day. However, Billy, you just had to open your mouth to talk. You rambled some shit about the country you were visiting (Canada), and then kept at it. Instead of playing, you kept speaking in a condescending tone to your audience. I knew that day I wouldn’t go to another Pumpkins show, because you just can’t put your ego aside when your outside the studio.

Still, there is no denying the power of the music. You rock… you put out some great records. Furthermore, as artists go, I like what you have done. I may not have followed you on the musical journey past the Machina albums, as it wasn’t really to my taste, but I appreciate your statements about the growth of artists… it’s just that I have a problem with people whose arrogance leads to self proclamation.  “I’m better than – fill in the blank”, just makes you sound like a dink. There is no need to raise yourself on the backs of your peers. You can certainly have an opinion, but remember that sometimes it makes you sound both petty and idiotic.

The result is, now when I put on your records around friends, we don’t discuss how fantastic the music is, we start by rolling our eyes about what obnoxious crap you did recently.

Siamese Dream is a fantastic work, and when it came to a special edition vinyl, I had to grab it. I have no regrets about what music sits in my collection, and I’ll continue to buy your music if I find it interesting. I’m still a fan, but please Bil… William, I’m begging you man – SHUT THE FUCK UP!