Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Five: 5 Albums From The Tour I Want To Hear

A selfish reason for doing the Albums of the Decade Blog Tour (which wraps today with Sound as Language) is to discover new music for myself. As I said in my list, there is no way to hear everything.

So the following five albums are ones I'm interested in hearing that other people on the tour listed. Most of these I had heard the name of the band, but their music never crossed my path. They were like myths made real.

I'll let you investigate to find who listed each album as one of their faves. And again, a big thanks to all of these blogs for agreeing to do this.
Thanks to Sound as Language for the logo!

5. Acceptance - Phantoms

4. Oxbow - An Evil Heat

3. The Lawrence Arms -
The Greatest Story Ever Told

2. Menomena -
I Am the Fun Blame Monster

1. Johnny Foreigner -
Grace And The Bigger Picture

More after the jump...

Friday Five: 5 (or 6) Questions for Zachary Mexico

I'm kind of jealous of Zach Mexico. He writes books and poetry, plays in bands and speaks Chinese. He's well set for whatever THE FUTURE throws him at with MAD SKILLZ like those.

His new-ish book is China Underground out earlier this year from Soft Skull Press/Pop Matters (Review on Deckfight here). Zach even has TV talents such as displayed here in a piece about China's Tsingtao Beer on Current TV:

Zach took a few minutes to answer a few questions about China Underground.

1) Have you heard about or caught up with any of the characters since the writing of the book? Are most of them still on the same path?

Yeah I've seen a bunch of them. The screenwriter character and I just went surfing together in Hainan Island. Everyone is still doing pretty much the same thing, and no one has changed.

2) I saw in the liner notes that you spent some time with Current TV in China during the Olympics. How was that experience and what type of effect did the Olympics have on the Chinese underground culture, if any?

A lot of clubs were shut down and concerts were cancelled. A few of the coolest places in Beijing were rented out as corporate suites for the duration of the Games, which was kind of a bummer because we didn't have as many places to go at night.

3) Do you think there has always been this type of "unexplored underground" in China? Or is it really just the outgrowth of capitalism that now allows some to form punk rock bands or to pursue their art?

For sure, I think there has been an artistic underground -- look at Lu Xun and Shen Congwen and some writers from the beginning of last century. Now it's just different: anything you do that's not directly related to making money is subversive in some way, because this cash-focus is just such a dominant paradigm.

4) The story of Hassan in "The Uighur Jimi Hendrix" really stuck for me--maybe just because of his confidence and brashness. Which stories do you find yourself continuing coming back to or remembering? Or is too hard to pick a favorite, like trying to choose a favorite child?

I like them all. The ones I always think about were the ones that didn't get finished for one reason or another. There was a lot of great stuff in some of those, and I just think: what if, what if!

5) Also, kind of the oddest 'underground' story to me was the Killing People Club one. I don't know it just seems like an odd game to create such fanaticism. Was that the only game/club like that at the time that created such a frenzy or was there a lot of other type gatherings--something like a really popular Gin Rummy fad that you just didn't decide to about? Are the Killing People Clubs still going strong?

They are still going strong. People are really into Magic: the Gathering now, or a homespun equivalent. I agree that the game was odd, and there were surely other games - tons of my friends spend most of their lives playing mah-jongg, and others play games online.

6) Finally--working on any new writing or band projects?

There will be new albums from both my bands out in January: The Octagon is releasing "WARM LOVE AND COOL DREAMS FOREVER" on Serious Business Records, and Gates of Heaven are putting out a greatest-hits compilation called "GOLDEN MASTER."

Right now I'm hard at work on another book about China, as well as a surf-noir screenplay set in Hainan Island.

More after the jump...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

review: China Underground by Zachary Mexico

Q&A with Zachary Mexico tomorrow!

China Underground

by Zachary Mexico

Soft Skull, 2009

Thankfully this is not some "gotcha" piece on Chinese youth culture. Thankfully this is not a trend-stirring book about "The Future of The Chinese People." Thankfully this book did not try to add a provocative subtitle like “China Underground: The Chinese Punk Subculture and What You Need to Do Now About It.” Thankfully, Mexico never takes such condescending tones to his readers, to his subjects, to himself. Instead Mexico develops a wonderful balance between fascinating narrative subjects and the slices of history that are necessary to understand their lives.

So Mexico travels to different parts of the country and profiles several characters of an authentic underground, starting with a blogger-photographer who stumbled into his craft, to the illegal distribution of ketamine, to massage/prostitution/escort services to guitarists and punk rockers. Mexico is right in telling these particular stories—they create an intriguing and diverse picture of China’s landscape, while also allowing him time to place bits and pieces about China’s energy woes and increasing economic development.

One chapter is what Mexico calls the “Uighur Jimi Hendrix,” about a lackadaisical, but talented guitar player named Hassan who is “Chinese, and he is not Chinese.” Born in the Xinjian Uighur Autonomous Region, Mexico describes Hassan as appearing “as Middle Eastern rather than Asian” and speaks English like Jeff Spicoli. Mexico gives the impression that Hassan knows how unusual he is, and he uses it to his own benefit in taking advantage of friends’ houses and rides all while honing his music. Mexico follows Hassan to a bureaucratic office to get a DSL connection, reinforcing the strange contrast of a partially-Americanized Chinese youth without the full access of one—Hassan is American, but not American, embracing many of the slacker stereotypes yet without the complete access of America; he is Chinese, but not Chinese. Somehow in this same section, Mexico delivers a great historical account of the ethnic minorities involved in Chinese government and the different provinces that they come from. Its these touches that makes Mexico’s stories useful beyond their funny anecdotes—it teaches just as much as it intrigues.

All of Mexico’s stories center on a main character, but often lead to places unexpected. A chapter on a screenwriter leads to a breakdown of the Chinese educational system and the methodology for developing Chinese films and TV series. Again, it’s a “same, but different” feel regarding the Chinese government. They’ve started down the road culturally to whatever American offers, for better of for worse, but specific hiccups and tweaks make it distinctly Chinese as Xiaoli, the screenwriter, must navigate China’s complicated censorship.

Mexico seems to be the perfect person to find and write about these stories. He studied at Columbia University along with work in China. He knows the language and lived in the country while operating a nightclub before moving back to the States. He’s the perfect translator, so to speak—a smart guy with a keen sense of the "hip and cool" and the perceived "hip and cool." He’s deft at revealing his access points only when they’re interesting or come about due to unusual circumstances, otherwise the reader is left to amaze at Mexico’s great access and journalistic ability.

More than history, more than short stories and anecdotes, China Underground is a great mix of the high and low nature that it so courageously documents.

More after the jump...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lit Randomness: The Wire, hipster rant, novel serialization & Electric Literature

David Simon talks about the purpose of The Wire in a new book about the show:
At Times UK (h/t Largehearted Boy).
A "chronic" interview with Jonathan Lethem: At Salon.

A hipster rant: At HTML Giant.

Novel Serialization with Shya Scanlon: At The Faster Times.

Electric Literature exposed: At NY Times (h/t Vol. 1 Brooklyn Twitter)

We're on Fictionaut (though we don't have much up yet): At Fictionaut

More after the jump...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

review: Black Square dd/mm/yyyy

Black Square
Being re-released by Impose Records, 2009

dd/mm/yyyy: "Digital Haircut"

I like this album.

"Bronzage" and "No Life"=alien guts disposed in a swirling electronic toilet
"'They'"=the mellow eulogy for aforementioned alien and guts

"Infinity Skull Cube" and "My Glasses" and "Birdtown"=procession through a desert with a synth-induced headache
"Sirius"=running away from holograms in the aforementioned desert

"Lismer" and "Real Eyes"=indisposed flat in a lounge chair while the fan whirs
"$50,000 Guitar Head"=indisposed flat in a lounge chair while the fan whirs and the remote casually channel surfs

"I'm Still In the Wall"=the jaunt from the lounge chair to the freezer to find some frozen fish sticks
"Digital Haircut"=the joyous anticipation of waiting for the fish sticks to radiate in the microwave.

More after the jump...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sleep Bellum Sono reminds me of something nutty, like The Paper Chase or a stripped down Mars Volta. New album,
Judge Us By How We Lived Our Lives, Not By How We Made A Living popping soon.

Sleep Bellum Sono: "A House Of Spades Stands No Chance Against The Wind (Gambler)"

Bellflur: “Grey Sparkle Finnish Pig”

Tim Williams: "Murderous Air"

Little Girls:"Growing"

Lissie: "Little Lovin'"

Field Music: "Measure"

Real Estate: "Beach Comber"

More after the jump...

Lit Randomness: Bill Simmons, Kevin Canty, Sherman Alexie & more

Albums of the Decade Blog Tour enters week two! Today with Count Me Out.

Yeah, I'm a basketball fan and Bill Simmons just wrote a book about the quirky history of the NBA: At Huffington Post.

Interview with Kevin Canty. Got this from somewhere, props to whoever it was: At L Magazine.
When I first started writing, I also felt a need to bring more working-class (and drinking class) characters into my stories; I'd spent a lot of time out of the middle classes and felt like there were a lot of stories that weren't getting told. Lately, though after all this time in the University I feel like I've lost touch with those lives a little, and so more of my characters in this new collection have money, jobs, nice shoes.
Interview with Sherman Alexie: At NY Times.
Novellas, Novellas...Novellas: At Emerging Writers Network.

How will we remember Dan Brown in 100 years? At Wall Street Journal (h/t LHB)

Oh yeah, this thing on Tao Lin.

More after the jump...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday 5: 5 Best Things Tao Lin has read recently

Albums of the Decade Blog Tour continues with Clicky Clicky.

There was Blake Butler last week and now Tao Lin. The heavy hitters don't stop around here. Lin is most recently the author of Shoplifting from American Apparel, out now from Melville House.

Tao blogs here, can be found in multiple corners of the 'net (old school!) and now has apparently started a band. Here's the five best thing he's read recently, as submitted earlier this month.

5. "Do not touch the high voltage paddle units which protrude from the underside of train" (part of a sign on the BART in San Francisco)

4. "Chinese Food and Donuts" (a restaurant in L.A.)

3. "Pancakes R Us" (a restaurant in L.A.)

2. "The Mystery Books are too depressed to do anything anymore. There was a tape called SLEEP FOREVER and then there was nothing for a long time. I think they will come back soon with something. I'm not sure but hopefully they will feel an urge to do something again." (the "about" section on The Mystery Books' Myspace page)

1. "More people kill themselves from country music than any other genre of music. Horrorcore is no worse than a Stephen king book. carles killings been going on where you been? I hate stupid f***s that try to bunch us all in one group. check out the local news that will make any man go crazy faster than a horrorcore cd. ." (a post on a message board on the website Juggalo News)

More after the jump...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

review: Heavy Days Jeff the Brotherhood

Jeff the Brotherhood is currently rocking it at CMJ in Brooklyn, so here’s a CMJ shout and a review at the same time.

Jeff the Brotherhood
Heavy Days
Infinity Cat Recordings, 2009

Jeff The Brotherhood: "Heavy Damage"

Figure if punk rock can be divided into different restaurant styles, then Jeff the Brotherhood is classic Italian. I thought of this while making a pasta dish of course, but that quick, copycat punk rock on the radio is fast food, and I’m not sure what would be Mexican or a sub shop (a band from New Jersey=Jersey Mike’s?) but “classic Italian” because this is good, consistent, and recalls the “punk” of old, I’m sure The Ramones would listen to this on their way to CBGB’s or to see Riff Randle with no clue what to do with the screamo barreling out of the radio.

But Heavy Days seems a bit slower (maybe because it’s heavier?) than the previous Castle Storm, with some instrumental dashes, this is The Ramones meets The Beach Boys. “The Tropics” has this slow mellow trot, “Heavy Krishna” has like this “Wipeout” vibe that I really like, and “Bone Jam” has that “ooooh” opener. But “U Got The Look” and “Heavy Damage” carries the weight, "Mind Ride" is the new classic rock-punk song and all of them have typical young adulthood meandering lyrics, like Jeff the Brotherhood got lost in their own neighborhood. At only nine songs, well, that kind of sucks but I heard the ‘bros’ rock it hard at their live shows.

Can’t remember if Jake and Jamin Orrall (the brothers in BROTHERHOOD) were in Be Your Own Pet, but they’re kind of incestuous with the Turbo Fruits which possess a very similar straight-forward punk sound, so maybe they were. All of this seems to be chronicled at Nashville's Dead which is my new favorite website.

I’m just glad this stuff is dropping out of Nashville, finally some cool crap going down over there beyond Taylor Swift and Kings of Leon and whatever is at Tootsie’s.

I’m tempted to blend Jeff The Brotherhood in with No Age, The Black Lips and The Thermals, all bands that are punk but are outside that Warped Tour/Alternative Press scene, whatever that is called now, I don’t know, maybe the Hot Topic Bands of Fakeness That Sometimes Put Out One or Two Good Albums. That’s kind of a long name so we’ll shorten it to: HTBFTSPOOTGA, or maybe the SPOOTGA for short. Yeah, SPOOTGA. Alright kids, there’s a new ‘meme’ so run with it and find a copy of Heavy Days when you get out the door.

Vid of “Bone Jam” after the jump...

More after the jump...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lit Randomness: Neuronovel, Punk rock & trailer parks, e-book doldrums & more

On a non-literary note, check out today's selection in the Albums of the Decade Blog Tour: Built on a Weak Spot.

Why do all novelists now write about mental problems? The rise of the neuronovel: At N + 1 mag (via The Rumpus and HTML Giant).

Let's just say it now--some books will work in ebook format and some will not. It doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. But that's not what these guys say. Instead, let's continue the "e-doldrums": At The Rumpus and "Why Are Books Nice?" at HTML Giant.

Malcolm Gladwell, blah, blah, blah:
At Time.

Review of Punk Rock and Trailer Parks: At PopMatters.

Online comics dissect zombie lit: At Vol 1 Brooklyn.
More after the jump...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Swing South: Pinback

Pinback: "From Nothing to Nowhere"
Pinback: "Manchuria"

What a treat when this band emerges from their San Diego enclave. Though they're from the lower CA, I always think of them as a northwest band, in the realm of Death Cab For Cutie and Menomena. I like to think of Pinback as sterile pop, their off-time jauntiness and their electronic fringes has this "clean" feel to it. With their various solo projects, seeing this band live and together makes it even more excellent. Think I saw some murmurings of a 2010 album emerging, so let's keep our fingers crossed. Southern tour dates and vid for "Bouquet" after the jump...

Oct 21 2009
Exit/In Nashville, Tennessee

Oct 22 2009
The Masquerade Atlanta, Georgia

Oct 23 2009
Club Downunder Tallahassee, Florida

Oct 24 2009
Common Grounds Gainsville, Florida

Oct 25 2009
The Social Orlando, Florida

Oct 27 2009
Cat’s Cradle Carrboro, North Carolina

Oct 28 2009
Black Cat DC, Washington DC

More after the jump...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Deckfight's Top Albums of the Decade

Deckfight is kicking off the Albums of The Decade Blog Tour, which will feature 10 blogs over the next two weeks choosing their favorite albums of the decade. Check here for a full schedule and tomorrow's blog will be The Album Project.

Oh the '00s. Don't think anyone ever came up with a good name for them. And in the same manner, there will be no consensus about what was the "best" or the "greatest" or the "most rad." And let's remember, despite what anyone ever tells you, there is no way, absolutely no way that anyone listened to all of the albums released during the last 10 years. All of us have our personal preferences, but I think these stack up very well:

10. Thursday
War All The Time (Island, 2003)

What a theme for a decade. Yes, war all the time, all decade long. And not just war overseas, but war in the scene, war in the workplace, fight, fight, fight. The opener "From the Workforce Drowning" is the anthem for anyone stuck at a temp job with copies and "Division St" is for anyone who notices the societal injustice. Thursday picks all these hard issues and won't back down. They rid themselves of some of the cheesier elements on "Full Collapse" to come into their own with a full plate of layered vocals and sounds--showing everyone that the words "punk" or "emo" or "hardcore" has more nuances than can be described.

9. Arcade Fire Funeral (Merge, 2004)

From out of left field and into our collective hearts.

8. At The Drive-In Relationship Of Command (Virgin, 2000)

From 2000, I almost forgot about this album. But the great thing is that it doesn't sound like the 90s or even what followed in the 2000s. It balances the two moments perfectly, with an intriguing blend of math rock, punk and the hardcore direction that was to come. This actually is modern rock, no matter how many albums Green Day or the Foo Fighters release.

7. Underoath They're Only Chasing Safety (Solid State, 20o4)

Unfortunately this album has created more stereotypes than the stereotypes even know, as they copy a copy. But blistering vocals, the craziest guitar riffs, intriguing album art this is the most intense album I've ever heard. Its intense because it plays the highs and lows to great effect--its heavy never becomes monotonous, its passion never becomes derivative. Too bad their fans demanded more metal. This is exceptional.

6. Girl Talk Feed the Animals (Illegal Art, 2008)

The shape of punk to come came in a pay-as-you-want model.

5. Postal Service Give Up (Sub Pop, 2003)

Just about all I listen to in the winter months. Self-revealing lyrics with the most sterile of music genres creates a great and memorable contrast.

4. Sufjan Stevens Illinoise (Asthmatic Kitty, 2005)

Some might single-handedly blame this man for flooding Brooklyn with Midwesterners, but it's not completely his fault. This album has grown better with age as we've seen just how unwieldy and dense this album could have been. How Sufjan got the three-ring circus of his mind on the same page is amazing.

3. Brand New Deja Entendu (Razor & Tie, 2003)

Absolutely no one saw this coming. No one, not even the band themselves.

2. Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch, 2002)

This album is notable just for the amazing transition of a band from bar favorite to experimental noise makers, as if Jeff Tweedy really was strung out or actually did emerge from the bible black predawn. Everyone who listened to it knew it was a classic when released, just like they knew Ghost Was Born didn't have the same pizazz. It's kind of ironic that they reeled it back in with subsequent releases, leaving fans to wonder if this will be their peak of creativity.

1. Jimmy Eat World Bleed American (Dreamworks, 2001)

Our greatest fears about so-called "emo" were realized with this album (okay, maybe our 'greatest fears' were actually realized in the many poor stereotypes associated with My Chemical Romance), when everyone else realized that our emo music was actually pretty darn good modern rock pop music and singles from this album hit the radio airwaves. We cried foul, as we quickly tried to expunge songs like "Our Weekend Starts on Wednesday," "American Hearts" and "I'm a Loner, Dottie, A Rebel" out of our memories. The fact is, we were listening to pop music all along, we were too scared to admit it--and this album deserves all the praise and plays it received. There is not just one catchy song on here, but half a dozen and though "The Authority Song" is a little patronizing, it's supposed to be a wink and a nod to their new position: "It's how the hustle goes/See what the jukebox knows."

And for the
Clarity lovers, "My Sundown" is their kiss goodbye.

This album should represent the pinnacle of the genre, and though its peak transcended decade lines, this hopefully will be and should be the album that rock historians come back to. Sure, it would've been nice for Texas is the Reason to get this type of airplay, just as there were some who preferred Mudhoney to Nirvana. But I want this album to stand for future generations as "emo" more than anything with a black parade associated with it.

Album released in the second half of 1999 that would have made this list if released a few months later, as I'm fairly certain (though not 100 percent...) that it didn't make any decade lists for the 90s:
Brandtson Fallen Star Collection (Deep Elm, 1999)

Honorable mentions: Animal Collective Feels, Further Seems Forever The Moon is Down, Appleseed Cast Mare Vitalis, Thrice The Artist in the Ambulance, Trail of Dead Source Tags and Codes, Death Cab for Cutie Transatlanticism

Thoughts? Comments?
More after the jump...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Five: The 5 Best Things Blake Butler Has Read Recently

The Albums of the Decade Blog Tour starts right here on Monday, 10/19.

Scorch Atlas (destroyed) by Blake Butler from featherproof books on Vimeo.

First came across Blake Butler just because I saw his name on a lot of cool interviews with Bookslut (I think). That eventually led me to HTML Giant of which is completely awesome (like you all know). Now Blake has a fly book out, Scorch Atlas. Which leads us to this point: The 5 Best Things Blake Butler Has Read Recently (submitted in early October).

5. Dennis Cooper's Period, which I first read buying based on the cover alone when I was like 23 and remember feeling when I read it like I opened something black and horrible and sublime and I could not stop thinking about it though at that time I did not in many ways with that mind understand, and in rereading now last week years later I just laid staring sometimes at the sentences and the structure of their make, and haunted again by that black house in those pages, typing some long sections out to feel them come out of my fingers and connect the time between the me now and the me then, and all the ugly light between us, and some other things I can not name.

4. The first half of Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog, which is his diaries from the making of his film Fitzcarraldo, and is just chock full of nasty rotting blood beauty and some of the most eloquent descriptions of life in the middle of squalor and nowhere I have seen. Were he to record himself reading the text for an audio book I would listen to it every night.

3. The transcribed lyrics to Mariah Carey's popular song "Obsession," which I have excerpted and discussed in a book I am writing now about insomnia and, well, obsession. Mariah Carey's an idiot, but whoever transcribed those lyrics the way they did is spending good time on our earth.

2. A postcard from David Markson saying he does not remember writing me the first time in response to my mentioning him in a magazine, and that he is very old now and rereading the work of Thomas Hardy and he hopes there will be time.

1. A letter from the IRS saying that my account had been reviewed and I no longer owe them $46,453, and instead now they owe me a refund of $299. I am going to frame this item and then set set it on fire and warm my face until all the hair on me is only smell.

More after the jump...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

review: Our Hearts Are Gold, Our Grass is Blue by Greenland is Melting

Our Hearts Are Gold, Our Grass is Blue
Greenland is Melting
Self-released, 2009

Don't know what to make of the folk-punk movement. The Avett Brothers are they folk-punk? What about Against Me!? But with Gainesville's Greenland is Melting, these songs could be punk, could be folk, but are great. Another thing--a good name is half the battle for listening, I don't care, if your name sucks, it says something about your aesthetic, you know like a book with a cool cover.

"No More Sorry Songs" is that heartbreaking, but catchy narrative song about locked up letters, and then Kyle or Will or Shaun or whoever the vocalist is, yells "This is life, this is life, this is life" and it is and we know it is, and "it's the form of a song that no one should ever hear" but we've heard it and we're better for it.

"The Kitchen Song" is self-deprecating, relaxed, no songs for the radio, but songs for the kitchens and basements of friends. Pull up a bucket, a bar stool, a plastic fold out chair and sit down and sit and sit. That feels good.

"Hotel Floors" brings the harmonica, the harmonica is under used. Everyone needs a harmonica. Everyone needs Woody Guthrie, too. The details, the details--"I changed my socks three times today," everything is wet, everything is pouring, I hate peeling off wet socks too. The details, the details.

There are more songs here for sure, but the details, the details makes Greenland is Melting a band to watch. Oh yeah...listen to "Blood on the Banjo" too--that's a good one.

More after the jump...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lit Randomness: Mktng Plan for Books, Stephen Elliott, The Second Pass

Books new marketing plan. I don't get what's so funny about this:
At The New Yorker.

Stephen Elliott and James Frey do Gawker: At Gawker.

I like how Frey is re-inventing himself as a hipster-reader icon. Maybe he always has been, made millions of dollars and now wants to get his street cred back. Like Jay-Z. I've never read Million Pieces of whatever that book was called, but I'm becoming more and more interested.

John Williams of The Second Pass, interviewed about The Second Pass:
Talking With Tim.

More after the jump...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

review: Horror Vacui I Was Totally Destroying It

Deckfight is participating in an albums of the decade blog tour. Check the dates and list at

Also, check out the Deckfight review on IWTDI's previous EPs and a Q&A with the band.

Horror Vacui
I Was Totally Destroying It
GreyDay, 2009

I Was Totally Destroying It: "Come Out, Come Out"

I Was Totally Destroying It: "A Reason To"

Just read that big Rolling Stones cover story about how the Beatles broke up. That ended up as a mess and a lawsuit. Read another article that Rachel Hirsh and John Booker the main songwriters for Chapel Hill's I Was Totally Destroying It broke up as well. Lucky for all of us, that resulted in
Horror Vacui and the band plays on.

It's the second full-length (I guess) for the band, though they smashed some EPs together in between this new release and their self-titled original.

I always thought I was a huge fan of the first album, but what I learned recently was that I was a fan of a couple songs that carried the whole thing. At a IWTDI show, I'll be the guy yelling "To Nomenclature" as I think it's one of the best pop songs I've ever heard, and I'm a sucker for "Hey Alright" and "My Favorite Haunt" as well. But reflecting back on those songs and album, it's clear that Hirsh was a bit reserved, still feeling her way as a singer, performer, keyboardist and part of this whole "band thing." There are (at least to me) clear Hirsh songs and clear Booker songs. But on
Horror Vacui, despite the duo's romantic separation, the two function better together.

There is harmony, and I don't just mean in vocal parts, but the instruments gel, the voices gel. Even though the lyrics speak of separation, there is a cohesiveness. On "A Reason To" probably the song most about a divided couple, the keyboard sets the melody line, but it complements the rhythm guitar very well. All parts are working on full cylinders even though the lyrics speak of something different. There is no round robin here of instruments (okay, you play your part, then you slowly move in, and we'll see how long that goes...), no these are realized, full, dense, good.

"Done Waiting" will induce screams with its soon to be familiar opening; "Caterwaul" has a well-defined urgency; "Green Means Go" are the Get Up Kids on reverb with a good understanding of keyboards; "Come On, Come On" has this boot-kick beat to it, as if its asking a bunch of alt-kids to line dance.

But, this album is about two songs to long, mostly tailing at the end. "Turn My Grave" seems out of place, "Forfeit to Win" is an excellent song, but takes the energy down a notch; a good concept structure-wise, though I don't think the band really pushes it as far as it could go. The middle of it has this odd breakdown that should have gone more punk, but settles for garage-band noodling.

But the first nine of this album really pushes IWTDI forward, pulling in some new arrangements while making sure the core catchy punk pop is well preserved. Lumping this band in with any Warped Tour emo-synth-pop wannabes would be a mistake--IWTDI only flirts for fun with those bands, and takes the best elements that has developed in that scene and makes them tantalizingly better. Its obvious that the band is not done yet artistically, that they still are capable of making some great trips, though they don't have all the roads figured out.

More after the jump...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Swing South: Neon Indian

Deckfight is participating in an albums of the decade blog tour. Check the dates and list at

Neon Indian: "Terminally Chill"

Lot of good choices hitting the road this week,(David Bazan, Atlas Sound, That Chuck Ragan Revival Tour thing) but most don't spend this much time in the fair southern states, much less much time in Florida. So besides for punch-drunk synth pop and electronica, Neon Indian gets props for spending a lot of time on I-75 through Florida.

Oh yeah, his new album,
Psychic Chasms, comes out tomorrow. Dates after the jump...

Oct 12 2009
Spanish Moon Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Oct 13 2009
Crowbar Tampa Bay, Florida

Oct 14 2009

Spannk Gainsville, Florida

Oct 15 2009
Rokbar Miami, Florida

Oct 16 2009
Club Down Under Tallahasee, Florida

Oct 17 2009
TSI Jacksonville, Florida

Oct 18 2009
The Earl Atlanta, Georgia

Oct 19 2009
Rock n’ Roll Hotel Washington D.C

More after the jump...

Lit Randomness: Branding & publishing, Bill Cotter, blogging & journalism w/ scott rosenberg

Deckfight is participating in albums of the decade blog tour. Check the dates and list at

A short but good lit randomness:

Excellent idea to classify and organize books in a bookstore by publisher. Makes sense to me, like the Martha Stewart Collection at Kmart:

At Vromans.

Bill Cotter's playlist for Fever Chart, a book I definitely want to read: At Largehearted Boy.

Conversations about blogging and journalism: At The Rumpus.

More after the jump...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Five: 5 Questions with I Was Totally Destroying It

First it was this. Then the review of the Done Waiting/Beached Margin album. Now it's an interview with the band. Next week it will be a review of their new album, Horror Vacui. What else do I have to do to convince you that I Was Totally Destroying It (IWTDI) is worth your devotion?

The band plays an album release party tomorrow, Oct. 10th at the Cradle in Chapel Hill, NC with Lonnie Walker, Des Ark, Rat Jackson and Lake Inferior.

IWTDI is made up of Curtis Armstead on guitar, Joe Mazzitelli on bass, Rachel Hirsh on keyboard and vocals, along with drummer James Hepler and vocalist/guitarist John Booker who were nice enough to answer a few questions.

And for a completely different type interview with the band, check out this feature in IndyWeek.

1) I dont' usually ask about band names, but "I Was Totally Destroying It" has this weird existential vibe to it, because multiple members (usually a 'we") actually equal an "I." So where did it come from?

JOHN: Existential would be nice, wouldn’t it? It’s a stupid story: I was in a band a long time ago, full of philosophy majors, so every van discussion turned into some deep, “meaningful” debate. One time we were discussing the “cathartic nature of destruction”- and I referenced a time when I was doing some renovation work- breaking up a slate walkway with a pickaxe- the description of my actions came out of my mouth as “I Was Totally Destroying It”. Somehow, it elicited a laugh, a “write that down”, and it stuck. When starting IWTDI, I wanted a band name that no one else would have (too many problems with that in the past), and that wouldn’t take itself too seriously. What I love about the name is the juxtaposition of it, the irony: if we were a metal band I would HATE it- but because we’re a pop band, I love it. As far as everyone else is concerned, it’s quite polarizing-although I’ve had a large amount of people tell me it’s the “best band name” they’ve ever heard…

2) I know you guys had some label problems (with local label Neckbeard Records) before getting on Greyday. Not to really rehash a difficult time, but what did that experience teach you (if anything) about this thing called music business?

JAMES: Whew. It's a really hard question to answer without the full story being out there, you know? I think first it's important to note that we approached the previous label situation with a good amount of caution, primarily because of the whole friendship/business thing. So rather than saying we learned anything, maybe it's better to say that what we already knew served us fairly well, and the situation reinforced our belief that we had a handle on our business. People on both sides had reservations about how it would all work out, and it became clear pretty early that it wasn't the right thing for either us OR the label.

JOHN: I’d like to think it taught the OTHER parties involved something about the music business- ours wasn’t so much “learned” as it was “why didn’t we just admit/realize this was going to happen?” I’ve been doing this a really long time, and sometimes that can mean a little and sometimes it can mean a lot. I’ve seen every side of the business- I’ve worked at labels, I’ve obviously been in the bands. I’ve been a frontman, I’ve been a sideman, I’ve been a hired gun. I’ve played to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom, I’ve played Kirby’s Beer Store in Kansas. I’ve been in cover bands, I’ve been in math rock bands. I’ve seen friends go on to sell 100,000+ records, I’ve seen friends that were poised to sell 100,000 records get absolutely fucked by a major(or an indie!) and break up. And that doesn’t even touch on Hepler’s years of experience (or the rest of the band for that matter). There wasn’t a lot left that this could teach me, other than to always bet on yourself. And trust your gut.

By the way, Greyday has been AWESOME for us so far- we don’t ask anything unreasonable of them, nor they of us, and I’d like to think THAT sheds the most light on the former situation than anything else. Wink wink.

I Was Totally Destroying It from Mann's World on Vimeo.

3) For Horror Vacui, is this the first time you're touring beyond the home state as a band? What's been some of the feedback you've heard in other parts of the country? What things is the band most looking forward to on a larger tour?

JOHN: This will actually be our second full-on tour with this band. We’ve done a lot of 2 or 3 day trips taking us places like Ohio and New York- but we also did a 3 week US tour in summer ’08. All the way to the west coast and back- it was a whirlwind trip- lots of 10+ hour drives, etc. This October tour will be a lot easier- covering a lot less mileage in about the same amount of time, although we plan to get back out to the west coast as soon as possible.

We’re really looking forward to sharing this tour with Ohio’s The Story Changes. A lot of the time, two smaller indie bands touring together can actually work against putting the whole thing together, but we’ve got some really cool shows lined up, and The Story Changes are super organized like us and they are absolutely inspiring live- so I think we’re all looking forward to the challenge of sharing the stage with them every night.

I’d say the feedback we get when we head outside of The Triangle is often MORE positive than what we receive at home. We’re lucky to have been embraced by many who support us here and enjoy the music, but Durham and Chapel Hill are scenes that were built on a very different sound than what we are currently after. All our old bands were very much a part of that musical mentality, but our pop leanings are not always a perfect fit in the Indie Mecca. Brooklyn probably hates us, Omaha probably hates us, San Francisco probably hates us- the more scarves and v-necks and skinny jeans you see, the less we are probably welcome. So yes, we love branching out into the other territories-often it can be very welcoming and rewarding and reaffirming. We’ve also been told Spain would love us.

4) I've been impressed with all your releases with how much of a sensibility you guys have for melody, arrangement and overall pop excellence (that sounds like an award category). How was that sense honed or does it just kind of come naturally?

JAMES: We all have our individual strengths and weaknesses, but each of us has a sense of songcraft. We pay very close attention to every detail of every song. The main vision comes from John and Rachel, but when we really get into the arrangements, the sounds, the minutiae of the songs, I think it's when we're at our best. I would hesitate to say it's honed, necessarily, because to me that's something you strive for and only achieve in degrees, but our songcraft is definitely conscious or intentional, and while much of it comes naturally, we don't rely on natural ability to get by.

JOHN: Melody is certainly my focal point, and my favorite part of the writing process, and I think my best contribution to IWTDI. Melodies seem to come to me very quickly, and usually I kind of just know I’ve got something if it’s instantly satisfying. I had been in a lot of riffy, guitar heavy bands, and really strove to focus on vocals much more this time around, and I somehow just got lucky in that respect, I’d like to think. However, to a certain degree, I feel I’ve exhausted my go-to tricks for writing the basic concepts/structures of IWTDI songs, so for whatever we do next, I’m really excited to open the band up more to musical ideas Curtis or Joe or James might have, and see if that pushes my melodies into new territory. It’s very exciting to write outside those comfort zones- every songwriter has go-to concepts, and it’ll be nice to try to experiment with our formulas more soon. It’ll still be IWTDI, but I’d like to think we haven’t written the same song twice YET, so I’d like to keep pushing that mentality even further.

5) Looking at your body of work so far, what are some of the changes that you've noticed over that time?

JOHN: Just the other day, Curtis and I jumped in my car and the first thing that came on the radio was a song off our first album. We both remarked that we hadn’t listened to that stuff in a while and how the track really sounded like a completely different band- a past project that we had moved on from (although we both stated that we still love it in many ways). That first album was a glorified solo record for me, for the most part. Inter-band workings changed a lot as soon as that was done, specifically, Rachel and I became a songwriting team.

Early on I’d say the music was pretty unabashed- nothing and everything to prove at the same time. Then about 2 years ago we hit a brief moment of self-consciousness: unsure how to proceed into “Horror Vacui”, I think we tried to do a few things for someone other than ourselves, which you should never do. We bounced back, really started improving in the later half of 2008, and after a year or so of neuroses and second-guessing (pretty much all on my part), we ended up with “Horror Vacui”. It might not be EXACTLY the album I envisioned, which will probably always frustrate me, but I’m learning (at the behest of my bandmates who assure me it’s DONE and AWESOME) to let it go. I’ve made a lot of albums at this point, but this one has been
the hardest for me to detach myself from- I’m HOPING that means I’ve done something right, and I’m TELLING myself it might just mean that this is the best I’ve done, so far.

More after the jump...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

review: I and Love and You The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers
I and Love and You
American, 2009

The Avett Brothers: "I and Love and You"

Not being enamored by The Avett Brothers and living in North Carolina is the new form of sacrosanct. This band has a special place for those who know just a little bit about music to be dangerous--mostly those who are huge Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews or Bob Dylan fans who throw down the occasional Vampire Weekend reference. "I just love The Avett Brothers!" they say. "Maybe you'd like the Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, or even the Carolina Chocolate Drops," I reply.

"Who? What?"

But I'm not a longtime fan. I was actually surprised how well people responded to
Emotionalism when I first heard it, mainly because of the actual rock in it with the semi-punk folk streaks.

Too bad that streak has mostly been ironed out by pop music god Rick Rubin. That flaunting NYT piece made him sound like he had struck literal nirvana and that he was the second coming of Confuscious. I guess it's harder to make snappy pop than I first thought.

But, somehow through my thick cynicism, The Avett Brothers make a pop album that does not seem cheesy, foreign, or the dreaded shift from their roots. Granted, I'm only going off one album, but this is the album I would expect to hear from the group making their dicey mainstream debut--just enough to pander to long time fans with enough smoothed edges for a popular launch.

The album starts with the title track, "I and Love and You" and it immediately slice into the psyche, with the plea for Brooklyn to take them in. The great thing is that almost any town name fits into their melody, so everyone can automatically fill their hearts with longing for THAT PLACE that cannot be grabbed. It's wistful, it's lonely, it's hopeful, it's despairing--it's the perfect "what if" song.

But holy cow, these guys can turn the lyrical phrase as proven in my favorite song of the album, "Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise." Go for this: "There's a darkness upon me/that's flooded in light/and I'm frightened/by those who don't see it." Those lines are so obvious and contradictory and well, just good, that there's a certain magic in its sincerity and the speed with which its delivered. Everything is calibrated for maximum impact, which I guess is Rubin's specialty.

Let's go to the worse song--that annoying kick drum one, using a stupid obvious metaphor that seems written for a thirteen year old. It's probably a hoot to play, a real kicker and crowd pleaser to those already drunk and looking for a song to put their arm around their disinterested partner's neck, but man is it superfluous.

The mid song break for picking and strumming in the middle of "Laundry Room" complete with a hayride hoedown feel is a great addition--it really picks the song up, spins it around a time or two for a pleasant ending surprise to an other wise solemn song.

Solemnity and quiet reflection is the modus operandi for the Bro's on this album--as if they're trying to parse and piece together the reason for their success. As if the tension and expectations have fueled some anxiety--"I am lost in greed/this time it's definitely me/ I point fingers/ but there's no one there to blame"--this is their "oh, crap what have we done moment" on "Ill With Want" so perhaps the songs are a bit more worrisome than usual. Perhaps the jump from bar band isn't an easy one.

Definitely worth the pick up, but it doesn't quite meet the hype. In fact, I'm somewhere between here and here. But this is a fine intro to newbies, nothing for the band to be embarrassed about or old fans to complain about.

More after the jump...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Swing South: Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus: "Titus Andronicus"

So So Glos: "Throw Your Hands Up"

Saw this band live with Los Campesinos! and it was one of my favorite shows. (read it here on the old site). Now Titus Andronicus is making their way around again and The Airing of Grievances is a great punk album, moving the genre forward, advancing all of the haute-slyness of the current crop of garage punks without kowtowing to any Alternative Press trend, all the while keeping their street punk cred with Jersey cool. I'm so slack. Half their shows down south are past, but still find a way to see them or at least buy the album.

Plus the So-So Glos rock like crazy.

Tour dates & vid of "Upon Viewing Brueghel's 'Land..." after the jump:

Oct 7 2009 8:00P
Caledonia Lounge w/ So So Glos (All Ages) Athens, Georgia

Oct 8 2009 8:00P
Milestone w/ So So Glos (18+) Charlotte, North Carolina

Oct 9 2009 8:00P
Local 506 w/ So So Glos (18+) Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Oct 10 2009 8:00P
The Southern w/ So So Glos and Andrew Cedermark Ala Mode ( All Ages) Charlottesville, Virginia

Oct 11 2009 8:00P
Rock and Roll Hotel w/ So So Glos (All Ages) Washington DC, Washington DC

Oct 12 2009 8:00P
Talking Head w/ So So Glos (All Ages) Baltimore, Maryland

More after the jump...

Lit Randomness: the vook, dan chaon, vol 1 brklyn, megan abbott, & don't call books trash

The vook (video-book hybrids). Sounds like a wookie: At Salon.

Dan Chaon was kind-of sort-of inspired by LOST (which is a good thing, in my book): At Bookslut.

Sometimes the way that the plot began to fit together in LOST, and the way that structurally they used flashbacks and flash forwards was really intriguing to me. I think I found that really useful as an inspiration in the writing of this book. I guess because there’s a lot of Hitchcock in the book, I guess part of me felt like I was writing a kind of Hitchcock movie. That stuff has a very big part in my imagination, as does horror, really.

Vol. 1 Brooklyn is putting out books. This looks cool and they have a bunch coming up: At Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

Interv. w/ Megan Abbott, who writes some hard-boiled stuff: At Brooklyn Rail.

Don't irrationally hate: From Nathan Bransford

More after the jump...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

review: Letting Up Despite Great Faults

Letting Up Despite Great Faults: "In Steps"
Letting Up Despite Great Faults: "Folding Under Stories Told"

Letting Up Despite Great Faults
Self-released, 2009

Shoegaze gauziness covering electronica beats--think Air and Fischerspooner with some type of Brit-pop swagger. You know, a rough-hewn mass of systematic loops and distortion, where there is more foot pedaling than guitar strumming. I trip over the vocals on these albums--never sure if I'm supposed to understand them or not, and in this case, the vocals are more of an instrument of sound rather than an instrument of meaning. I'm sure they are saying something, but just what is completely superfluous to the songs. All that's needed is a Sophia Coppola movie deal and California's Letting Up is set.

"Folding Under Stories Told" is excellent, "So Fast You" creeps me out like a dollhouse in a formal living room before opening itself up to more personable niceties, "Our Younger Noise" finds its rhythm through a slow trickle of bubbles, like a half-way functioning aquarium and "Photograph Shakes" is like that great secret that you're glad to be apart of.

But Letting Up Despite Great Faults is a secret worth sharing.

More after the jump...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Swing South: Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird: "See The Enemy"

If someone plays the Ryman, you know they've made it. One last thing--did you know he had this many albums?

Southern dates and vid from Austin City Limits '09 after the jump:

Oct-05 WorkPlay Soundstage Birmingham, AL

Oct-07 Cat's Cradle Carrboro, NC

Oct-08 Cat's Cradle Carrboro, NC

Oct-09 The Orange Peel Asheville, NC

Oct-10 Ryman Auditorium Nashville, TN

Oct-12 Music Farm Charleston, SC

Oct-13 Bijou Theatre Knoxville, TN

More after the jump...
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