12 April, 2011

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart vs. The Builders And The Butchers

The singles preceding "Belong" leaned in favor of the new release being another stunner. It was clear though that The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart had ramped up the stakes, ushering in Flood for production and Alan Moulder for the mix. They stopped just short of emerging on a major label - but the idea that the new album would be their proving ground to anyone of influence that might be paying attention was plainly evident. Today, without hesitation I bought the disc along with the new release from The Builders And The Butchers. From the first notes of "Belong", it's sadly clear that what was left out of the recording was what made all previous releases by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart intoxicating and unique. The band was never what you'd quantify as lo-fi, and they were never wholly indie or shoegaze - but they did forge a new path that captivated listeners from tween to fans of early 90's shoegaze. Sadly, the uniqueness was sacrificed in lieu of a polished, painfully refined sound that strips away those facets that didn't fit in any one place and leaves a band that is almost cut & paste with any other band that tried in vain to capture what TPOBPAH perfected on all previous releases. I think this is where our roads diverge. The two tracks that I feel are worth seeking out are, "Heart In Your Heartbreak" (one of the singles) and "My Terrible Friend". I almost have to believe these songs were already done prior to Flood and Alan Moulder coming on board, because these two tracks capture the unique blend of a Pains Of Being Pure At Heart track. Honestly, and quite sadly, this one is better left on the shelf.

On a side note: this is the fourth consecutive release by Flood and Alan Moulder that has gone to hell. Ruined the latest PJ Harvey album (as if I would have ever believed that was possible), The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, YYYs and something else I can't think of at the moment. STOP!

Is it even possible for this band to have made a darker album than all that have come before it? Maybe not darker, but when the subject matter has gone from city-sized epidemic to self-deprecation, the feel is that you are in the dark, poorly-lit room with this bard as the walls close in and your addictions take you across a bridge that is only one way. The albums' feel is one of a traveler, even conjouring images of a sea-faring spirit. There is not a huge departure here from what you'd expect from The Builders And The Butchers, lyrically it's an incredible journey - musically, the influences take you across the world and are birthed from a bluegrass, folk, and southern rock stew. It's not ever easy to isolate an influnce upon this band, it's closest relatives are Jay Munly and Black Heart Procession - but at best they are second cousins and it's okay for them to marry. The guitars and keys are looser, the drums more pronounced and pounding giving "Dead Reckoning" a seething, backroom boogie. The biggest departure is vocally, Ryan Sollee is more brave on some tracks, and explores his range...on "It Came From The Sea"; he offers up a sea-shanty. I wouldn't hesitate to suggest "Dead Reckoning" to a fan, but if someone was looking to experience The Builders And The Butchers for the first time, I'd still steer them towards "Salvation Is A Deep Dark Well". The reason is, "Dead Reckoning" finds the band exploring new musical elements and experimenting with song structure, and it may take another album until their comfort with it is more evident, it's clearly unfamiliar territory here. That doesn't suggest that "Dead Reckoning" should be shelved, it simply captures the band in transition and not at their most powerful. It's still an incredible album, and I hope a tour in support of it brings them my way - I will be there in a heartbeat. Producing their own album with assistance from Adam Selzer (who also mixed it), and releasing it on an indie label, it's a job extremely well done.

On a side note: it's refreshing that a band still records because it loves playing and sharing their music. It's not about being bigger or looking for someone to take them to the next level. The want to find more fans by word of mouth because their music stands on it's own. It's not about creating buzz with the art, the production, or the video. So - to all the bands and friends I have that are recording and doing so because it feels so good - thank you!

09 April, 2011

"Munki" - Bad Album or Bad Timing

When "Munki" emerged in 1998, it was after a long absence from The Jesus And Mary Chain. The world of music had changed dramatically between 1994's "Stoned And Dethroned", and the new album. Recording for "Munki" began in 1995, but Warner Bros. was immediately skeptical of the band's new tracks. Reality is, following the lukewarm reception and complete detraction from JAMC fare, Warner was likely already looking for a reason to throw the switch. The "I Hate Rock 'N' Roll E.P." emerged, and it served the same purpose as Prince writing "SLAVE" on his cheek. As JAMC began to shop themselves around, the internal turmoil grew and no one was really sure what to do with a band that was moving in a negative direction and made no secret about the tumultuous relationship between the Reid brothers - not to mention the fact that they publically threw Warner's reputation to the wolves and became public enemy #1 to the majors. It wouldn't take much effort for the world to forget about The Jesus And Mary Chain.

Suddenly in 1998, another entity the world had stopped thinking about, Sub Pop Records, announced that they would be releasing the new Jesus And Mary Chain album. A 7-inch and tour cd were sent out as teasers, and there was quite a buzz for the triumphant return of Scotland's bitter brothers. The new songs suggested that Jesus And Mary Chain hadn't become soft and turned off their amps and sold their electric guitars - but instead refined the sound they were already known for. Albeit, a lot less feedback and a lot more Weezer influence - but still very much JAMC that the world once loved. However, the cards were stacked against the success of this album. MTV had abandoned it's programming; Sub Pop was considered a non-entity and no longer making waves across the music scene; America was burning it's flannel in favor of rapcore and neo-goth; and the droves of bands early JAMC influenced had long since combusted. However, I think people were curious enough and hopeful enough to give "Munki" their love... at least until the interviews began to emerge. The picture that was painted and needed zero interpretation was that the recording sessions had been heated, difficult, and nearly abandoned on an almost weekly basis. The Reid Brothers were not talking, and refused to record together, so separate sessions were required to piece "Munki" together; and if that wasn't concerning enough, a few months following the album's release, a sold-out show at "The House Of Blues" in Los Angeles was preceded by a blowout on the tour bus; Jim Reid nearly incapable of standing during the show; and William Reid walking off the stage 15 minutes in and not returning for the rest of the tour.

All of that said, "Munki", a bad album? Hardly. The Reid Brothers have been notoriously murderous towards one another since their births, so it's clearly a muse from which they create. Perhaps that was less publicly known than at the time "Munki" was being met with such skepticism, but nevertheless, it was of no concern to me - I figured that was a news story that was the equivalent to someone reporting that ingesting pesticides is bad for the human body. "Munki" stands uniquely, and if pressed for a comparison, I'd explain it's a melding of "Automatic" and "Stoned And Dethroned". They may give you the idea that we're dealing with acoustic drum machines - but that is not the right image. Tone down the feedback in favor of late 90's post-punk bands like Weezer or Jawbreaker while maintaining the breathy decadence a la "Her Way Of Praying", and the general structure of "Munki" begins to take shape. The arguments that the album is poorly balanced as a result of the inbalanced recording sessions is crap in my opinion - I don't hear it. People are interpreting the inclusion of tracks sung by Hope Sandoval and Sister Vanilla as a dividing line between "Moe Tucker" and "Degenerate", and point to this as evidence of a fractured recording. More likely, William Reid's bond with Hope Sandoval and the hope to help Sister Vanilla launch her musical career lead to inclusion of these tracks, and point to nothing more than evidence that JAMC were not resting on their laurels, and that perhaps these songs were a bit older than most people knew. The band broadened their songs to include horns and sampling, resulting in an album that gives a dirty boogie feel. If I was a stripper - "Cracking Up" would be one of the songs I'd work my pole to. Moreover - I think "Munki" is a strong representation to the influences the Reid Brothers had amassed over the years and though these songs weren't recorded to pay homage, I do feel they were recorded to show that despite the perception that as a Reid your shit don't stink; they were paying attention and the Velvet Underground isn't the only band in the world they should be compared to. "Stoned And Dethroned" proved that they could play without a wall of feedback; "Munki" proved that JAMC could adapt and still be viable; they could change with the direction of indie music trends and remain fiercly JAMC, unfortunately, no one was paying attention; more importantly - taking a back seat to trends means you are the first one out of the car.

With the exception of some convoluted, Sonic Youth-esque tracks; "Commercial", or tracks that seem to lack emphasis; "Supertramp" - "Munki" is still a solid album. A victim of musical trends clamoring away from late 80's/early 90's indie bands; a victim of sleeping giant MTV; a victim of Warner Bros. who despite a reputation to support creativity took a blind eye to this band; and a victim of their own animosity towards an industry confused by emerging digital trends and changing tastes. "Munki" is no less a good album, just a good album at the worst possible time.

07 April, 2011


Funny, I was in the kitchen doing dishes last week, Maisy was in the living room watching Dinosaur Train… the episode was about anniversaries. It donned on me that it was the anniversary of when we finally met in person. This was a big day in years’ past, but in light of the paths we’ve chosen, it nearly went without notice. I have to be honest, that was a pinch at reality for me. I’m in auto mode, and though appearance-wise, I am dealing with the impending divorce with surprising ease and comfort, the truth of the matter is, I’m not really dealing with anything at all. When I think about being alone, it is in the context that, “I can have a desk in the bedroom again”, “When I get up in the morning, I won’t have to worry about waking anyone”, “I can come home and leave home when I want”, “I can work late and not have it ruin someone’s evening”. After about a day of all these claims coming to fruition – I will be left to deal with the idea that I am alone. I don’t have someone waiting for me, I don’t have someone to talk to everyday… and the idea of that sucks. Knowing that I could put on headphones and listen to music and not have to worry about missing a call is far more sad than it is liberating. That ‘pinch’ on our anniversary was a glimpse at how my brain is going to process the aftermath, and a reminder that I am currently not preparing or coping with it in the least.

Do I still have friends here without Maisy? I am not an artist, and that essentially constitutes our friends as a whole: artists. The belief among them is that I will simply disappear, and I don’t want to validate that assumption. I also don’t want a pity party, or a lot of awkward time spent at art events. So much of who I am has been as a supporter and provider to Maisy, that I imagine it would be hard for anyone that knows me on a social level to pin me down or describe me.

It goes back to having to find my passion for something, and connect with people thru that interest. Being myself should be enough, and if I don’t connect with people on that level, then I am among the wrong people. There is a handful of people I could certainly imagine connecting with, but there’s an arm’s length between us. I don’t think that connection is reciprocated. Mikey, Tracy, Ed, Ralph, Eric, Dillon – these are people I am beginning to be comfortable with; but I think that their love and support of Maisy makes things strange, and the knowledge that she’s leaving is furthering that awkwardness.

Complicating everything is the attitude my mom has taken. Similar to my days of always being in trouble: the air of disappointment and annoyance. I don’t know what I can tell her except to continue to be positive whenever we speak. Part of it is probably worry, knowing that in years’ past when left to my own devices – those devices were of a less than productive nature,

The one person I could seriously sit and talk to and get some support from is far-the-fuck away. Besides being happily married, the weight of the world is on his shoulders right now, and furthering burdening him with this seems cruel.

I’ve no succinct way to wrap all of this up. Making distance now is a poor choice, because I miss out on the time we have left and it makes the remaining days sad instead of fun; obliviously prancing into tomorrow seems reckless because then I am not coping or preparing myself for eventualities; putting on a brave face and accepting everything as it presents itself is the best I can do right now.