Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Was Ist Passiert?

It's kind of funny, I think. 

In these days I don't listen to much music anymore, but I keep thinking of the idea of music, about what it's supposed to do to us.  I keep thinking about the logical aspects of music:  the genre taxonomies, the gamut of possible comparisons one can make.  I keep thinking about more cerebral aspects too:  how am I capable of determining if something is a good record, why my taste might differ from someone else's.

I know -- all of that sounds vague and possibly even generic -- but hear me out.

Technology is at the point where virtually every album is at the tip of my fingers, to use the old cliche.  Certainly with a small amount of effort I could find the good stuff -- but if I were to meet one of those "arbitrary people on the street", what would a deep knowledge of '90s indie mean?  In the whole, it's better to be able to sing along to John Mayer, to pump our fists to Metallica, and accept (shoddy) indie-rock substitutes such as Panic!  At the Disco as the real thing (Nothing against Panic!  -- their last record actually was decent -- but if that's what we're calling indie rock we're truly neglecting so much!).  It's populism at its finest -- rise up against the indie elite while they play their expensive vinyl records and laugh at us ordinary folks.  

I wouldn't mind being able to join in as everyone sings along to the pop anthems of our generation.  They suck, but maybe if I forget about it for a while I can fabricate a sort of veneer:  that I actually like these songs and I haven't seen the alternative.

Here's one of the first stories I can remember that relates to my current girlfriend.  This was a couple years before we started dating -- we and a few friends were sitting around my kitchen table, Monopoly game in action.  My friend Ian had a set of crappy iPod speakers, and we were listening to a populist blend of music -- the kind of stuff where you maximize utility by neither pleasing everyone nor offending anyone.  Lots of Queen's greatest hits and early Coldplay.  There's one thing I remember rather vividly.  Someone put on A Fever You Can't Sweat Out by our indie-rock substitute friends, and the mood changed:  everyone was singing along, word-for-word, following the dense wordplay as it zigged and zagged. 

Was I the only person in the world who didn't know the lyrics?  Wasn't this one of those records I had deemed artificial and crap when I first heard the lead singles back in high school?

A few days later I found myself asking my friend John to let me steal the album from him.  At the time I was listening to lots of Galaxie 500, but I made sure to leave that dreamy bliss and drink the Kool-Aid, as they say.

I did a mathematics research program last summer, and my roommate kept telling me that only weird people listened to indie music and watched indie cinema.  The purpose of being exposed to culture, he would hint, is to create a set of experiences that you can share with the maximum number of people, whether those experiences are singing along at a pop concert, enjoying a trashy superhero movie, or reading a popular graphic novel.

If you want an example of what I am trying to say this webcomic says it so much better than I ever could.  Right now, at this point in my life, I would trade all my musical knowledge for the ability to sing along to the top 40 radio (or even mainstream alternative radio) without embarrassment.

When I listen to music now I try to alternate pop albums with indie albums.  I'm starting easy, with lots of mainstream '90s alternative rock -- all the stuff I missed or disowned even a few years ago.  I just listened to Gordon by the Barenaked Ladies, and though I thought it was cheesy as hell and found the instrumentation to be overly dated (seriously, who needs two splash cymbals?  But that is a post of its own) it was well-worth it.  It actually tied up a lot of loose ends in my understanding of early '90s college rock and helped me figure out where Rheostatics, a Canadian band I enjoy that apparently launched the Barenaked Ladies' career, fit into the picture.  But that's the music nerd speaking.  The populist in me says it's just good I heard the songs.  And maybe later there will be a memorable social experience that derives from it.  Hey, my girlfriend and I have made significantly more references to the lyrics of "If I Had A Million Dollars"!

I guess what I am trying to say is what's the point in good music -- music I want to hear -- if the world revolves around shitty music?  A few months ago I merely wanted to observe from the outside.  Now I want to try to take the full plunge.

What's ironic is that I am moving to Brooklyn, that supposed hipster Mecca, next month.  I'll be able to see any band I want -- and that means possible chances to see bands like Versus that rarely tour.  If it's possible it would be cool to get involved in radio again, but I'll have to take a look to see what the landscape is there for community radio.  And no doubt I'll have to start writing again -- there's going to be interesting stuff on the horizon.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

It's that time...

It's that time of year, when it's time for Respect is Due to return to the airwaves and bless your ears with '90s indie goodness.

With so many shouts of "90s revival!" in indie rock this year, I think the most important thing we can do is play some real, honest-to-goodness '90s indie rock to show all the revivalist bands how it's really done. Case in point: I just listened to a crappy song by Wavves called "I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl". With its title referencing sheltered suburban 90s childhoods listening to the alternative station, I'd have hoped that they'd take a chunk out of the '90s alternative rock book, but no! instead Wavves fuses '60s girl group handclaps with stiff '80s musicianship. Stiff as in they're holding their instruments so tight because they can't play them well enough to control them.

Fortunately, the real thing is young enough that some good bands like Archers of Loaf and Sebadoh are doing reunion tours. I went to see Archers of Loaf in Chapel Hill about two weeks ago, and hopefully will be seeing Sebadoh in October here in Pittsburgh. The Archers rocked the Cats Cradle and never seemed to run out of energy, and I'm hoping that Sebadoh will do a solid performance as well.

We'll be on the air Fridays from 7-9 PM, on WRCT, 88.3 FM in Pittsburgh, and hopefully some of you will tune in locally or online.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Recent Vinyl Finds

Let me use this post to talk about a few vinyl records I've found while used vinyl shopping this month. Back in 2008, I asked for a cheap USB turntable for Christmas so I could listen to records -- but I had only two records at the time, both of which were promotional items that record labels threw in for buying their CDs. Merge Records had given me a Spoon single for buying Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga at an independently-owned record store, and Matador threw in a free Pavement LP when I preordered the remaster of Brighten the Corners from them. However, since getting a turntable, the world of cheap used vinyl and reasonably-priced new vinyl has exploded into the mainstay of many an indie record store, to the extent that I've surprised myself with the things I've found in the used bins

If you've taken a listen to my radio show in April or early May, you might have heard a band called Flower. Flower were a hardcore-inspired noise-rock band out of mid '80s New York City. They started out as an arty, angular synth-punk band, creating bleak, gritty new-wave inspired music that was, in the trend of American bands of the time, much more streetwise than the sheltered British hair-and-synth bands. They put out one EP, called Crash, which we have at the radio station, in this lineup. Then they dropped the keyboards and became an equally-arty (remember, this is New York City, home of Television and No Wave), but more hardcore-inspired, quartet, combining tight '80s drumming, guitar virtuosoship, and Mission of Burma-inspired noise for their first album Concrete. Their second album, Hologram Sky, was much more melodic -- almost a pop album, if you ask me -- but it still kept the bleakness and the noise. Later on, three quarters of Flower evolved into the indie rock band Versus, whom I play on my show all the time.

I won't post any music by Flower since, although their CD compilation Concrete Sky may be one of the few CDs on the list of rare CDs that are worth several times their original purchase price (I've seen copies online exceeding 50 bucks), the music on it is widely available on the Internet if you do a Web search. What I do want to talk about is that I was actually able to find the vinyl of Concrete during an inspired search at Pittsburgh's Mind Cure Records. Mind Cure's a relatively new store in Pittsburgh that stocks only vinyl, and mostly used vinyl. Looking through their selection, they seemed to focus on punk rock, indie rock, and experimental/progressive rock (I saw a ton of '70s prog stuff a la King Crimson, and I snagged a Kurt Vile record as well).

A few posts ago, I talked about the North Carolina-by-way-of-Connecticut trio Humidifier, and stated that I had no idea how one would go about acquiring their 1988 debut Misery's Redeeming. Well, it turned out there was a cheap used copy (in decent condition as well) at Charlotte's Lunchbox Records. So obviously, I snagged it and listened to it. If you went through Nothing Changes, Misery's Redeeming is a whole different animal: it's essentially your local college band going into a nice studio for a couple of days and recording their songs with no frills. Whereas Nothing Changes is more heart-on-sleeve, sappier, and more melodic -- and has echoes of Superchunk and Spent (remember, Humidifier contains the singer of Spent and the guitarist of Superchunk) -- Misery's Redeeming has lineage of '80s UK new wave like The Vapours, American post-hardcore like The Minutemen, and folky college rock like R.E.M. It's one guitar that sounds like it's played directly through the amp, tight post-punk style drumming, and some simple open chords. I made a crappy digital transfer and will be posting it in my next post.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Urusei Yatsura - Slain by Urusei Yatsura

Damn, how I love Urusei Yatsura. Though Slain by Urusei Yatsura's not their best album in my opinion (that honor goes to the impossible-to-find, and sadly underrated, Everybody Loves Urusei Yatsura), this is my vote for the best of the two studio albums that were readily available in America in the 90s. Somehow their records got released by major labels in the States under the name Yatsura (so as not to infringe upon the copyright of the Japanese anime): We Are Yatsura was released by Primary Recordings, a pseudo-indie run by Elektra, and Slain by Yatsura was released by Sire, also part of the same corporate umbrella as Elektra. There is also a B-sides collection that only got released in America called Pulpo that I believe was on Elektra as well.

Even in the post-grunge era, where this kind of alt-rock band was snatched every day by the majors, it's hard to see where the commercial potential come in. On Slain, Urusei Yatsura come across as combining the post-punk energy of the Fall with the geeky pop of, say, (early) Weezer. The emphasis is on The Fall though, with the aggression and experimentalism of the former distilled into short, noisy pop songs about Dungeons and Dragons.

In the spirit of the concept of this blog, you can currently get a used copy of this record for a quarter on Amazon Marketplace. New copies seem to be a bit more pricey than the other two records I have posted, though.

Link: [here]

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Balloon Guy - The West Coast Shakes

My next choice of album is an album which I believe cannot be found for download anywhere on the Internet, "The West Coast Shakes" by Balloon Guy. As in, I do not know of a Mediafire or Rapidshare link to this album, and there are no songs by this band posted on Youtube. [Edit: This is not true! See the links at the end of this post] However, in the theme of the albums I am going to post, it is available on the cheap in the cut-out bin of the Internet that is known as Amazon Marketplace, and a couple of days ago, my order for a three-dollar used copy of this record came in.

The few places on the Web that have mentions of this obscure Minnesota band tend to say things along the vein that Balloon Guy are "slacker" rock. Sure, Balloon Guy's wobbly chords and drunken grunge schtick resemble a more groomed - yet far less consistent - Midwestern variant of Pavement, I certainly don't hear anything "slacker" about it. If anything, with every hit of the (two?) fast-decaying splash cymbals you can hear what sounds like an immense time and money commitment from the Warners' towards the album: the playing is tight, and the production sound is that big and glossy post-grunge sound seen on many a '90s major-label release.

I've only listened to "The West Coast Shakes" once and am, if anything, confused about what exactly Warners saw in this band. I feel that Balloon Guy could have been a respectably good Pavement clone on an indie label, but if anything, Balloon Guy personify the kind of disillusionment that Steve Albini wrote about in his essay "The Trouble with Music": the band that got courte
d by the majors, released an album that failed to go anywhere, and suddenly disappeared.

In general, Balloon Guy are much bluesier and have more '60s classic-rock and '70s prog-rock influence than any of their contemporaries such as the Archers of Loaf. I was disappointed the first time around, but by now I enjoy about half of the songs. Easily, Balloon Guy can go into the canon of overlooked Nineties alt-rock.

Link [here]
More info on the band [here]
More on Balloon Guy including some early indie-label singles: [link]
Want a real copy? Amazon Marketplace has new copies for a buck and used copies for a penny.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Humidifier - Nothing Changes

Most people who know about indie rock have certainly heard of Superchunk: between them and their label Merge Records, they helped put North Carolina on the map, and repopularize a do-it-yourself approach in the wake of the major labels descending upon Seattle to sign every artist that wore flannel or had a single that sounded remotely like Nirvana.

The question remains, then, as to whether you've heard of Spent. Spent are sufficiently obscure and I might do a later post on them, but for now let me tell you what little I know of them. Unlike Superchunk, Spent were from New Jersey [I actually had to look this up -- I actually thought they were North Carolinians as well]. Like Superchunk, they had a whiny singer, John King, and they played a hyper, jingly-jangly blend of power pop and punk rock. Both were flagship bands of Merge Records in the middle '90s, but somehow Spent faded into obscurity after two albums, both of which you can find for a buck on Amazon [side note: Though I got their first record, Songs of Drinking and Rebellion, for a buck on Amazon marketplace, I managed to find their second record used on vinyl, so you might just get lucky like that].

Humidifier, then, is a merger of Superchunk and Spent. And when I say a merger, I don't just mean that their sound is a sonic child of the two, combining the more hyper elements of Superchunk with the more melodic, quirky guitar work of Spent - I actually mean that one of Humidifier's three members, vocalist/guitarist John King, sang in Spent, and another, bassist/guitarist Jim Wilbur, played guitar in Superchunk.

Humidifier actually formed in the '80s while the members were in college in Connecticut and released an album, called Misery's Redeeming, on a local Connecticut label, but this record is extremely obscure and I would have no idea how to find it (Edit: I found it completely unexpectedly! I'll be listening to it soon and will tell you more about it in a later post). There are a few mp3s of its songs, as well as some more detailed history of the band, here. But then, with two of the members finding mainstream indie success in Spent and Superchunk, Humidifier fell by the wayside until around 1996, when they holed up in Brooklyn's Rare Book Room studios for a weekend and recorded Nothing Changes, which is the record I have here for you.

Lots of people who've heard this one dismiss it as a mediocre second-rate version of Spent and Superchunk - but I find the songwriting to be up to par with both of those bands (this would make sense!). Tell me what you think!

Download: [here]
More Songs and History:
[here]
Even More Songs: [here]
Want Your Own Copy? Amazon has new ones for a buck and used ones for a penny.

Nothing Changes? Nothing Changes!

Ever heard of those stories about commercial radio stations where right in the middle of an alternative rock song, they announce they're doing a format shift, say, to pop-country or top 40 or rock or Latin music? We're not going to do that here at Respect is Due, but I'd like to try something a little different.

On my show, I tend to play lots of '90s indie rock that's either out of print or really hard to find, and I'd like to have a way that you can introduce yourselves to these bands.

At WRCT, we at one point had the idea of doing a WRCT blog, where each of the station members wrote a column about something music-related every month or couple months, and it got posted. My idea for a column was to take an obscure and out-of-print indie or alt-rock album that can be found on the cheap (as in, for one penny) in the online cut-out bins that are the Amazon Marketplace and write about it, possibly even linking to a download of the music. The idea of focusing on "cut-out" records would be to highlight themes of forgotten, ignored, and underrated music: bands that have been neglected to the "cut-out" part of the virtual record store (I'd say brick-and-mortar record store here, but sadly, these are going the way of the dinosaur) but are worth more than their 99-cent price tag.

In the column, I would have focused more on the history and context of the album: for example, if it was from Louisville, try to explain why Louisville was big shit during the early Nineties, and how the band may have fit in along the Chicago-Louisville greats like Slint and Rodan. I would have focused on '90s indie albums, but there would be no reason why I couldn't highlight an album from the Noughts or the Eighties once in a while (in fact, you will be seeing one from the Noughts soon!).

Well, I'll be trying this for a while, linking to some downloads of this obscure and out-of-print music, and hoping someone out there wants to hear these bands as much as I enjoy listening to them.

[For the record, the title of this post is a bit of foreshadowing towards the first record I plan to post.]

Friday, February 25, 2011

"I'll be Bach..."

We at Respect is Due are back in action... well, at least for this week. Next week's show and the week after's will be canceled due to Spring Break over at CMU. But what's important, at least for now, is that there is no sports pre-emptions anymore.

Today's playlist was standard and straightforward compared to other shows. I have, however, been digging through the 7" singles part of the library more often than I used to, and trying to play more singles I've never heard before instead of just looking for "Frog" by Versus yet again. Granted, "Frog" is an awesome song, and Versus are an awesome and fitting addition to the K/International Pop Underground canon. I just play it too much, probably because "Frog"'s never been released (to my knowledge) in any other way except for on one 7" single. And you can guess what the next thing I'm going to say is: I don't know of any other place you can hear stuff like this on the air except for this show.

By the way, if you do know of any good college radio shows that play the type of old-school indie rock I tend to play, please tell me. A lot of the music I listen to I learned about due to a number of great shows (most of which aren't around anymore, sadly) on Boston College's still-excellent WZBC that played lots of British post-punk and shoegaze as well as '90s American indie.

If you want the playlist, take a look at it here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Who Knows When...

...this show will come back to the air. Essentially, if anything, this is a rant about the basketball season more than anything else. The DJ after me, Paul, who does the wonderful "Viva Le Mock" show after mine, and I both have our shows interrupted due to basketball season, and we agreed on a way to allow both of us to get on the air despite the basketball games. Unfortunately, that was based on the assumptions that basketball games would happen on certain days and not happen on others. Today there was supposed to be no basketball games, but instead the airwaves will be graced with two.

At this point, it's likely that there will be a show next week, but it's also likely you won't hear Respect is Due until Massive Music Weekend. What we do on Massive Music Weekend is split the weekend into 120 half-hour blocks, and devote each block to a specific band or artist. You'll be hearing Massive Music Weekend blocks of Pavement, Versus, Unrest, Mogwai, and a few others I can't recall, from yours truly, if my requests get approved and on the schedule.

Until then, there's tons of new music to listen to and enjoy. Tapes 'n Tapes put out a good new one, Outside, and I've heard good things about the new Deerhoof and Decemberists records (the Deerhoof one's sitting on my desk, unlistened to -- hopefully this will change soon). There's a new band from England called Yuck that actually are deserving of the Pavement comparisons they get; their record comes out next month on Fat Possum Records, truly signaling the end of that label's tenure as a blues label and rebranding it as a home for vaguely lo-fi guitar-based buzz-band indie rock.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Stuff.

I was out last week since I had to go play Capture the Flag With Stuff, which happens at the same time as Respect is Due. The rules give a good picture of what type of "game" Capture the Flag With Stuff - or, CTFWS (say it: "ka-toff-was") - is: pure anarchy, something like eighty to a hundred people on a team with minimal semblance of organization trying to do God knows what.

As this is a game designed for computer scientists by computer scientists (protip: never was I ever a computer scientist) all the stuff has "magical" abilities. As in, you are immune to other people's attacks if you wear the blue belt, and are skipping around and holding hands with (hopefully) friends singing the lyrics to that great ditty known as Yankee Doodle. I think that gets the idea across.

If you're in Pittsburgh or at Carnegie Mellon and are thinking about CTFWS, please be a sane person and don't go.
Unless everyone else you know is going - then there's actually somewhat of a reason to brave the insanity.

Believe me, you'll thank me later.

The moral is: there will be music next week. Real music. As in, people playing real musical instruments.

On a completely irrelevant note, I actually got to listen to Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion yesterday. You know, the one that Pitchfork hyped until oblivion. It was, shall I say, underwhelming. They came off to me as synthpop Talking Heads wannabes who felt their songs were some ironic combination of "cute" and "precious" - they're the type of band that you like not because it's good, not because it's original, but because you were told to like it, and you knew your hipster friends would disown you otherwise. I'd listen to the Talking Heads any day instead.