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Why I Love the Mountain Goats

imgres-3By Michael Papich 

This was probably back in February – I was on my dorm floor and I was hanging out in a neighbor’s room because my roommate’s “big” had sent him a present, the details of which I can’t repeat without blushing. Anyway, in my neighbor’s room, we were shootin’ the breeze about midterms, and as the conversation switched, he asked be for music suggestions. I was hardly surprised, being the illuminating trendsetter that I am, so I told him about the big artists from the previous year: M83, Real Estate, St. Vincent. I also listed off some of my favorites: Wolf Parade, An Horse, “and of course,” I said, “the Mountain Goats.” We both shrugged understandingly, because my affection for the Mountain Goats was not something I kept secret.

 

“Why do you like The Mountain Goats so much?” he asked. I was about to correct him and say that the “the” is lower-case, but instead I just said, with a clear mind and a heart full of conviction, “I dunnuyh.” But it got me to thinking: why do I like the Mountain Goats so much? They are definitely my favorite band, so I should probably have a reason for why. So here goes.

 

John Darnielle’s music is, typically, an acoustic guitar, with John’s wild lyrics and weird voice. Is the guitar playing great? No, but it’s what’s necessary. His chords always find a way of going perfectly with the tone of the song, and if he needs intensity, he can expand on his playing whenever he needs (check out West Country Dream). There’s no sense of awe in his skill, but you still feel incredibly touched hearing his playing. You can feel the harmony with the song and the emotion bleeding off of his fingers.

 

Is his singing great? No, but it’s what’s necessary. He’s a man armed with his own emotion, and he’s going to get it out any way he can. There’s a real honesty in his voice, and the sense of a small, insignificant being expressing himself in the face of a vast and ambiguous force (check out Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace). And if you see him live, the emotion in his voice comes forward even stronger, and by the end of a Mountain Goats concert, there are very few dry cheeks.

 

Are his lyrics great? Okay, this one is a little harder to explain. John’s lyrics are beautiful and poetic (check out Fault Lines, or There Will Be No Divorce, or really any of his songs) and a lot of my love for the Mountain Goats really comes from this aspect of his songs. I love language and I love lyrics in songs. But unlike, say, the glorious lyrics of, say, Spencer Krug, John Darnielle’s lyrics are applicable to life all the time. He sings about shared human experience and emotion, even if he has to be really weird and crazy about it.

 

What I’m trying to say is that there’s no sense of pretending or trying to be a songwriter or musician in the Mountain Goats music. It is incredibly human music. And that expands to all parts of the Mountain Goats. Peter and Jon, the bassist and drummer for the Mountain Goats respectively, are from other bands originally, but there is such a strong sense of friendship from all of them, which even bands who grew up together and formed together don’t always show. On stage, John jokes and tells stories like he’s your buddy and interacts with the audience in such a conscious way that all of the weird, voyeuristic feelings that go with seeing live music vanish like the armies of Mordor.

 

And John Darnielle himself is such a cool person. He does tons of charity shows, for animals, women’s rights, domestic violence prevention, and he always has such a firey passion for everything he does. It was also a changing experience for me to see him talk about how much he loves North Carolina, his adopted home, because I always felt that way about the state (since I was born in Canada), but never thought I could learn to love it. But thanks to his push, I’m trying.

Album Review: Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

imgres-2By Michael Papich

 

Oh man, Foxygen. When Foxygen put out their first album in 2011 and then re-released it to more acclaim under Jagjaguwar in 2012, these guys were killing it. Nostalgic, throwback rock was undeniably popular. One need only look at the popularity of bands like The Black Keys or The White Stripes to see that, as much as people love their grindcore, their post-rock, their London laptop house music, people also love to just hear someone play some new songs on guitar and drums with a familiar groove. Foxygen stepped into the shoes of some of the 70s’ and 80s’ best big rock outfits on “Take the Kids Off Broadway,” their first album. And it worked perfectly. Each song was a blend of different styles, identifiable from many different bands at once, changing through the course of a song as it poured into the next. So it was no surprise that people who heard “Broadway” would be excited for Foxygen’s newest release.

 

Well, wanting the same level of righteous energy from Foxygen was, unfortunately, misplaced expectation. “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” considerably tunes down the two-man outfit. When going through the album on the first listen, as this realization dawns upon you, there is a hopeful observation you might make. “Broadway” clearly took its influence from heavy, stadium acts like The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, with that same warbly voice and bombastic, melodic waves of cymbals and guitar. Now, they are trying the other, earlier side of rock music. There are obvious Velvet Underground influences, the track “Bowling Trophies” has a sarcastic Frank Zappa vibe, and the second track, “No Destruction,” sounds exactly like early Bob Dylan. Like, exactly. So, the ol’ Foxygen boys are just trying to show off their other musical loves.

 

This trend does not continue very strongly, and the album quickly begins to turn toward the duller side. None of the songs flow into one another like “Broadway” did, which felt like a near-seamlessly stitched together quilt, and by “San Francisco,” the fourth song, “Ambassadors” feels like a 60s beat album that’s just about some people living in a place that you can’t relate to.

 

The album does start to pick up after this point, with “Bowling Trophies” and “Shuggie” pairing together quite nicely, although “Shuggie” bucks the trend of the album and sounds more like ska-influenced folk from the 90s. The tracks “Oh Yeah” and the title track both contain the kind of changing, long rock tunes “Broadway” had in droves, so it’s a nice end to a bit of a let-down.

 

What’s the strangest is how Foxygen has seemed to actually reject sounding new in favor of adopting more of the sounds of old, much-loved bands. “Broadway” contained plenty of experimentation with modern keyboards and indie rock styles, of which “Ambassadors” is quite bereft. By retreating into the nostalgia that makes their music win so many fans, Foxygen may have lost the perfect balance that made their previous work so engaging. If slower, Dylan-like music is your thing, give it a listen, but don’t expect another 35-minute sound feast.

Album Review: Atoms for Peace – Amok

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By Michael Papich

 

At first we thought it was a prank, or at least a fun joke. Or maybe only I did. Thom Yorke has always had a habit for breaking the fourth wall in the way he promotes and creates albums: the lyrics to future Radiohead songs hidden in the Kid A packaging (Kid A, incidentally, better than OK Computer. You just read it so now it’s true), In Rainbows secretly being the 2nd half of OK Computer (which, incidentally, is not better than Kid A). But this album saw sporadic tracks being released, hints, and that surprise show where an incarnate of Atoms for Peace performed at Coachella as
“?????” (which is actually one of the coolest band names ever).

 

But it was all real! And now we have the album to chew on. But like other things promoted through clandestine, DIY-research ways, it doesn’t feel like a groundbreaking discovery. I don’t mean that in the way that, say, Cloverfield ended up being a big dumb monster, but Atoms for Peace’s “AMOK” isn’t terribly shocking. For one thing, we’d already been treated to a few, albeit wonderful, tracks. The rest of the album is also not much of a jump from other albums and songs Thom Yorke has put out in the past years.

 

But! Not being shocked and not being entertained by this music are two totally different things. It’s like how you aren’t super-hype when a new Ty Segall project comes out. You know what he does, you know how these come out, but damn is it good.  “AMOK” is a fantastic album all the way through. Each track takes the best of albums like Radiohead’s “In Rainbows,” Thom’s solo work on “The Eraser,” and the tracks he did with Burial and Four Tet show considerable influence on this album.

It is through the synthesis and consistency of these elements that “AMOK” truly shines. Burial-style drumming makes you bop your head through tracks like “Judge, Jury and Executioner,” the beloved synth showcases giving considerable groove to tracks like “Default” and “Dropped,” and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea’s bass kills songs like “Reverse Running.” I must say, as someone who really does not like RHCP at all, I was hugely surprised and impressed with Flea’s bass skills. Like, to the degree that I am going to go listen to some more of their songs for a reassessment.

 

“AMOK” has absolutely no weak spots. It’s not the kind of album you can get really excited about while listening because it lays you out so hard, but not in a bad way or a way that endorses drug use for the youth of the world. It puts you in the mood right from the start with “Before Your Very Eyes,” keeps you going through what feel like the subway tunnels of London for a solid near-half hour, then kills it at the end with the title track and brings you back into the world of the waking. Yes, “AMOK” is not a shocking or perception-shattering album, probably because it’s the quality we expected from the band’s architect. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be raved about. Well, maybe not “rave,” but definitely a lot of verbal and textual praise, and a lot of late-night, home-alone desk dancing.

Album Review: Local Natives – Hummingbird

Local Natives’ Hummingbird album, released in January of 2013, is elemental and organic. Its instrumentation consists of guitars, cello, piano, and prominent drums, intricately and dreamily dancing together. The prominent beats are varying and unconventional, yet grounding. Poignant and authentic, Hummingbirds has a full sound that echoes distantly through your being.  Like an ocean, majestic, orchestral, and vast, crescendos swell up to crashing cymbals. Hummingbirds takes you through a jungle of life, interesting energy, and movement. This album is intense and dramatic, yet has a relaxing effect. Much like the waves of the ocean, which I imagine would have inspired this California-based band. The characteristic three part harmonies are earthy and authentic. Falsettos throughout are a particular strength. Overall, Hummingbirds is a strong, unified album, consistent with Local Natives’ instrumentation and style.

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So you say you like live music?: A concert review

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The Wonder Years, Misser, Hostage Calm, Fireworks 

Perhaps the best thing about the modern punk scene is the sense of unity and friendship amongst the bigger name acts. Pop-punk heavyweights The Wonder Years and Fireworks continue to tour together almost annually and they always bring a few other talented acts along for the ride. This time around, the bands brought Misser and Hostage Calm with them in a tour unofficially referred to as ‘The Soupy Nation Tour” (a play on the nickname for The Wonder Years front man and the simultaneous pop-punk Suppy Nation Tour).

The sonic variety of the bands on the tour was a crowd pleaser, with Misser’s heavier sound playing off the more acoustic, harmonized music from Hostage Calm. Members of both The Wonder Years and Fireworks have grown over the past few years to bring their musicianship up another notch. It’s clear both bands are masters of their craft. With all four bands poised to release highly anticipated new material this year, it’s exciting to see four bands each pushing punk in a unique direction.

DJ Frankie’s Corner: “On the Impossible Past”

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“On the Impossible Past” by  The Menzingers
By DJ Frankie C. 

This indie-punk band from Philadelphia put out one of the best records of 2012. “On the Impossible Past” is an introspective look at Americana through the eyes of vocalists Greg Barnett and Tom May. It’s a great record to spin as the weather warms up and the band blends timeless rock with contemporary indie and post-punk flair. If you’re looking to test the waters with The Menzingers, check out “The Obituaries” or “Gates”, both from “On the Impossible Past.”