Sunday, March 31, 2013

I gave up listening to Andrew Bird for Lent. And I lived to talk about it.

As the title suggests, I did indeed give up listening to Andrew Bird for Lent.

I don't know why I did it. Mostly because well, I'm not religious. I am not a fan of the Catholic Church, or any organized religion, anymore, and haven't followed Church doctrine in it at least seven years. But because I like attention, I told everyone, "Guess what I'm giving up for Lent? Listening to Andrew Bird!"

I find it difficult to really get sick of Andrew Bird's music because there's so many layers, so many things to discover with every listen. I often binge on him, and get in these moods where all I want to listen to is live versions of "Lull." I may fall in love with other records by other artists every so often, and I've binged on other artists throughout the years but it always, always comes back to Bird. (Not to mention, the man has a lot of music. It's not difficult to not get sick of him.)

But other than a few "oh, I want to listen to [insert song title here]" thoughts as they came up on shuffle on my iPod, I can't say I really felt like I was missing something. And why? Well, Lent started on when, February 13? And Pedestrian Verse was released...when, February 5? I think we figured out why. I often joked that I do listen to artists other than Andrew Bird, I just don't like anyone else. Congratulations, Frightened Rabbit, I like you too. I realized it when I had a bit of a overly-dramatic moment, complete with tears, and thought, "I just want to listen to 'The Loneliness and The Scream' over and over again." Andrew Bird's music wasn't the only thing that could possibly make me feel better. I'm not sure if I've ever had that reaction to another artist. Anyway, thanks to those scruffy fellas from Scotland, I made it through Lent (with "Old Old Fashioned" in my head).

What else did I listen to over the forty days?

Did I mention how much I like Frightened Rabbit?

No, no, I'm kidding.

I re-discovered Frank Turner (not so much re-discovered but gave him another chance) who is not only a lyrical genius with a brilliant voice but he reminds me of The Pogues. And anyone who reminds me of The Pogues is fantastic in my book.

And who else?


Well, I like the new Youth Lagoon record, even though I think it's incredibly long and the vocals aren't the most pleasant thing to listen to (but my opinion could change, i.e. Dan Bejar). I do like parts of the Phosphorescent record, and I like the new Cloud Cult too, even though I'm not blown away. I have a feeling I am going to really love it after I see them live but right now, it's tough to want to revisit it.

I actually attempted to listen to a bunch of other records, some of which I just turned off after a song or two. The one that sticks out most in my mind is the new Josh Ritter record. What a disappointment. I couldn't even get through it all on two separate listens. And he's one of my favorite songwriters. It got great reviews for the most part but I just found it so boring. Maybe in time I'll learn to really like it (even though it's not on Spotify, which is aggravating) but right now, it's not for me.

I don't think my inability to enjoy a lot of this new music has anything to do with my "WHEN CAN I LISTEN TO 'THE TWIST' AGAIN?" attitude. Or maybe it does. The real test is really whether or not I want to listen to Andrew Bird again. I listened to "Fitz and the Dizzyspellls" and "Souverian" this morning but I'm not clamoring to listen to all of Noble Beast. In fact, I'm currently listening to Liver! Lung! FR!

But knowing I can listen to "Anonanimal" again just makes me happy.

Friday, March 22, 2013

My beloved green iPod Nano, Geno, basically crapped out on me this week.

I had a feeling it was going to happen, especially since the back button had stopped working, but after five and a half years (which I am told made it ancient in the Apple world), it basically went to sleep and never woke up. Then it told me to connect to power, which I did, and then after it was charged, I couldn't turn it off. And that's where it stands now. Couldn't even pause a song.

(If you're wondering, "Anonanimal" was the most played track on it. The last song I listened to? "Backyard Skulls." I feel like there's some sort of poetry to those facts.)

These things happen, and although I basically grew to hate everything on it (I had been skipping through the 1100 songs on shuffle just so I could listen to "The Woodpile"), I am still pretty sad to see the little green guy go. Music is obviously important to me, and it's become the number one love in my life. And when I think back about all of the music that came and went on Geno, all of the obsessions I've had since 2007, I can't help but get nostalgic and just a little bit sad. This iPod is dead and I don't even have some of these songs anymore. I'll probably forget about some of them until they pop up on a Pandora station and I'll think, "oh, I haven't heard this song in forever." And wonder why I still don't listen to it.

So, I've been thinking back on all of the musical obsessions I had over the past five and a half years.

1. The Frames-I bought this iPod a day or so after I saw The Frames at Webster Hall. That was the best show I'd ever been to (until LCD Soundsystem at The Wellmont in 2010) and I was on such a Frames kick for a bit. Even though I don't listen to them much anymore (occasionally when they would pop up on my iPod), they're still my favorite band of all time. And Glen Hansard is a legend.

2. Tegan and Sara-I had been a pretty casual Tegan and Sara fan for a few years before The Con was released. And then The Con was released. Total obsession. Total need to consume all of their music. And boy, did I listen to a lot of them in 2007. Even saw them live (and it's one of my favorite shows to this day). I cooled off on them around the time of Sainthood (we can all agree it wasn't as good of a record, right?) and although I still adore them, and LOVE Heartthrob, I've been priced out of seeing them live and they're so popular, they're being covered on Glee.

3. Andrew Bird-It's a fierce and eternal love. Just ask my arm. But in all seriousness, there was an obscene amount of Birdman on my iPod.

4. The National-I secretly give The National a lot of shit, simply because their live shows just aren't there  but in 2010, they were my everything when it came to music. I'd be lying if I didn't say Matt Berninger's lyrics didn't have an impact on me, and The National are special because even though I've shared a bunch of my bands with her, they're the band I truly share with my best friend. And is there a better feeling than someone telling you, "You know that band you like? I like them too?"

5. LCD Soundsystem-As mentioned above, seeing LCD live was not only my favorite concert-going moment but a revelation. James Murphy is a god. The second-half of 2010 was dominated by LCD Soundsystem. Sadly, I find that their music doesn't hold up too well on repeat listens. But it's oh, so good.

6. Destroyer-I was pretty anti-Bejar until the release of Kapputt in 2011. I couldn't stand his voice. But then, I saw the light (and come on, that is a fucking incredible record). Wanna talk about lyrical geniuses. I binged on Destroyer for the first half of 2011 (I cooled off around the time I saw them live, which was a bizarre experience) but I am still prepared to lead the Cult of Bejar. I mean, have you heard a song better than "Bay of Pigs?"

7. Frightened Rabbit-Ah, Frightened Rabbit. I. Love. Frightened. Rabbit. Like it is an intense love, and I'll no doubt burn out on them in another month or so. But for now, I shall bask in how great I think they are. I mean, the other night I christened them my third favorite band. Of all time. A little premature, huh? Well, we'll see where this one takes us.

And you know, there was Japandroids and Beach House and Feist and Beirut and Bon Iver and The Avett Brothers and Devendra Banhart and so many other bands and artists that I obsessed over for a few weeks. So many phases, so many memories, all on one iPod.   

I filled up, or attempted to fill up, my new iPod and only managed to find 329 songs I wanted on it. That's a pretty drastic difference. But now that I think about it, it just means that I have to find new songs to make memories. Those other songs belong to the last five and a half years of my life.

Except "The Woodpile."     

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I really fucked it up this time, didn't I my dear?

Can we talk about earnestness for a moment?

Yes, this is in response to that Stereogum article. Which upon my first reading of it, I felt a little too defensive about Frightened Rabbit. With a second reading, I realized that the whole damn thing was so dumb. If I had to compare Frightened Rabbit to someone else, which I HATE doing (in general, not just with FR), I would never, ever put Mumford and Sons on the list. And not just because I think that FR's music is way more complex than Mumford's (i.e. FR's songs don't all have the same damn structure, and they don't all sound the same) or because Scott Hutchison's lyrics are pretty amazing, whereas Marcus Mumford's are well, let's all face it, they are trite bullshit ("there's no drink or drug I've tried to rid the curse of these lover's eyes?" Jesus Christ. I can see Mumford's rhymes from a mile away) but because they honestly don't sound the same. Sure, FR employs some of the same folk influence as Mumford, but why even put the two bands in conversation with each other? Because they're all a bunch of white dudes from the UK? It's not even fair. Let's stop doing it. And let's also stop acting like all bands want to be Mumford and Sons. Sure, they are the biggest band in the world right now but do you really think a band like oh, I don't know, Calexico, want to be Mumford and Sons? Maybe they want their success, sure, but it's ridiculous to act as though Joey Burns is bemoaning the fact he didn't write a song like "Little Lion Man."

(Side Note: I didn't use FR and Scott Hutchison for this analogy because I think we all know that he does not wish he wrote "Little Lion Man.")

Anywho, the Stereogum article sort of came off as the writer just well, bemoaning the fact that a lot of people like Mumford and Sons, and not enough people know about FR. And yes, it is aggravating. But the article also brought up the idea of earnestness, and what makes FR more earnest than a band like Mumford, or The Lumineers, or The Avett Brothers. Well, for one, those three bands, a long with Edward Sharpe, Ray LaMontagne, etc. present a sort of aesthetic that for me, seems forced. And it seems forced for the simple fact that I came up with a list of five acts off the top of my head that are subscribing to it (and I can certainly come up with a few more). And look at the last American Idol winner; sure, Phillip Phillips has a nice voice, and I do like that song "Home" but there is nothing more manufactured than an American Idol winner. And someone manufactured him into a Mumford and Sons clone. And I can be realistic, and I realize that something like "I Will Wait" or "Ho Hey" or "Home" (I mean that Edward Sharpe song) is a lot easier and more fun to sing along to than say, "Keep Yourself Warm" or "The Woodpile." Those other songs are jauntier, they are bouncy, you can clap your hands and stomp your feet and I'm sure people feel good about themselves after dancing/singing along to it at a concert. Sure, "Old Old Fashioned" and "Swim Until You Can't See Land" and "Holy" are incredibly catchy too, but maybe mainstream audiences don't want to sing along to lyrics that are abrasive, and self-deprecating, and kind of dark and angry. People like fun music (as evident on people's Facebook profiles). And can we all agree that Hutchison's lyrics are far denser than "I belong with you, you belong with me in my sweet heart" or "I will wait, I will wait for you" or "home, let me go home, home is wherever I'm with you?" His lyrics are the best thing about his band, and I am practically insulted that Stereogum is comparing that lyric from "Acts of Man" to that ridiculous one from "Little Lion Man." The bottom line is people like catchy ear worms, not something they have to devote actual attention to in order to fully appreciate.

So, why do so many people think "I really fucked it up this time, didn't I my dear" is disingenuous? I mean, I realize that I never question Hutchison's genuineness. Or his earnestness. Maybe because his lyrics are so honest and self-deprecating and most likely kind of off-putting to people (perhaps we have an answer to why FR isn't bigger than they are) and they never seem forced. Sure, they are a downer sometimes ("I'm dying to tell you that I'm dying," anyone?) but I've always accepted them as genuine. Because you can't force something like "let's pretend I'm attractive and then you won't mind." But what about those Mumford lyrics? Why don't people buy it? Why do they come off as though some child just learned to use swear words (albeit quite poorly)?  I don't have the answer to those questions. Perhaps it has to do with that aesthetic I was talking about earlier. If their sound and image come off as forced, then anything they present in their lyrics is going to feel forced too. Or perhaps its their popularity. It's harder to find genuineness and earnestness and something like self-deprecation in music that is enjoyed by the masses. Why even attempt to be genuine when you're making millions? What's the point? People like Mumford's sound, and do you think all of those people filling up arenas to see them give a shit about what they're singing along to? These are the people who made "Gangnam Style" a major, obnoxious, hit. I'm not saying Marcus Mumford isn't trying to be genuine but it's easier to accept he isn't than accept he is.

I guess the point is it's not hard to figure out why Mumford and Sons is popular. Or why there are so many bands trying to capitalize on their success. But we can keep scratching our heads as to why Frightened Rabbit aren't more popular. They just...aren't. But I think we can all agree that there is no reason why something like "The Woodpile" or "Backyard Skulls" couldn't be part of the public consciousness.

Or we all go back to listening to Frightened Rabbit and enjoying them and let everyone else listen to Mumford and Sons. Do you really want FR to become insufferable, annoying twats?

(Also, can we stop talking about The Winter of Mixed Drinks as though it is the worst album to ever be released? Because it's not. Because if you gave it to someone to listen to before he or she ever listened to The Midnight Organ Fight, which is what happened to me, he or she would probably really enjoy it. Even think it was great. On it's own, it's a strong album. Sure, a bit sanitized but "The Loneliness and the Scream," "Things," "Skip the Youth" are all great songs. Maybe the generalities of the lyrics didn't work, and maybe it feels a bit too produced but c'mon. Stop shitting all over it.)