Tera Melos, one of my all-time favorite bands, will soon be releasing their 3rd-ish full-length album, X’ed Out on April 16. Guitarist and vocalist Nick Reinhart took the time to answer some occasionally music-related questions.
AG: Say something new and interesting about Disco Stu.
NR: i can’t honestly think of one interesting thing to say about Disco Stu, and i think the whole band feels that way. actually, i guess the truly interesting thing about him is how anyone thinks he’s funny, or how the writers/creators of the show could possibly think he’s remotely as great as every other character on the show. i went and referenced a couple disco stu vids on youtube just now to make absolutely sure that this is how i felt. confirmed. he just randomly walks into a scene, does a butt wiggle, then says “disco stu.” he’s a dud, not a stud.
AG: What is the composition process like for the band? Is it largely one or two people writing material themselves and then bringing it to the rest of the group, or is it a collaborative jamming process from the start, or what? Has it changed over the years, in relation to styles/formats of the band/all that? I’m assuming material for the demo, for example, was written fairly differently than how Patagonian Rats was written, which is different from how X’ed Out was written.
NR: the genesis of a song generally starts in my bedroom, just playing guitar. i’ll start to hear some interesting things, figure out ways to transition a couple of ideas, come up with a few variations, roughly paste it all together and then record it. when we first started we would “jam” in the practice spot. maybe someone would come up with an idea on the spot, or bring a few solid guitar or drum parts in, then we would spend up to months refining things (well, as refined as we could physically get them, which sometimes wasn’t very much so, haha). we don’t really do that anymore.
i’ve found that i write/discover my favorite material after playing by myself for long periods of time. by the time nate or john even hear one second of guitar demos, i’ve already put hours and hours into making it not sound like garbage. whereas when you’re all together in a room playing you’re basically throwing piles and piles of shit against a wall and hoping that something will stick. it gets frustrating when you drive 40 miles to the practice spot for 4 days a week and don’t see tangible results. then multiply that by months and months. so i come up with ideas, bedroom style, then send out these rough outlines and everyone can play to them on their own time and throw as much shit at the wall as they see fit,.then we can get together and modify everything we’ve worked on, individually, and get it sounding like a tera melos song.
i think those guys have a really good level of trust in me and the musical stuff i bring to table. i can’t think of too many times where either john or nate have said, “yea, uhhh that’s really not that good.” it’s likely because i’m my own biggest critic and had already told myself, “jesus, that sounds awful, back to the drawing board” many times before i’ve emailed any songs.
AG: I’m gonna quote back to you something that has been quoted back to you before, hopefully in a new context: “this is the first fully realized, focused record we have made. everything sounds intentional and the way we wanted it to sound. there are no cringe moments for us. in a lot of ways we look at it like it’s our first album. it is 100% honest and not catered towards anyone. it’s tricky making a record that way, it’s even trickier structuring a band that way.” That was about Patagonian Rats, your last record. How does X’ed Out feel to the band? Now that you’ve already made the album you’ve been wanting to make for a long time, what new feelings have been motivating the creation of this new album?
NR: well in addition to patagonian rats being the record that we’d wanted to make for a long time, it was also the way we wanted to make a record for a long time. so we applied the same process to this album. it’s probably just a matter of knowing what we want and choosing the right paths to accomplish that. it took us a long time to get to this point where we’re happy with how we sound and perform. everyone that’s been in the band made it their top priority and focus. it took years of hammering out ideas and playing nearly 1,000 shows to get this to where we can fall asleep at night without obsessing over how to make everything fit. i think we’re all really happy with our current state.
AG: You’re big pop music fans. Do you consider your music essentially similar in nature to the more straight-ahead pop stuff out there? Do you consider the more “straight ahead” music you listen to “exceptional,” in any stylistic way? What, if anything, unites Tera Melos and Madonna?
NR: hm, i mean we just like all types of music. i don’t think straight forward music is in any way more exceptional. not at all. it’s all just personal preference. i think when we were younger and discovered non “straight ahead” music it was really fascinating and new and fresh. now i don’t get the same exclusive rush listening to it that i did when i was 22. now i can get that rush from lots of different types of sounds. it’s funny you mention madonna, because i can get goose bumps listening to old madonna songs. the production, the melodies, the vocals etc. in fact, just yesterday i was playing drums along to a madonna playlist on my ipod.
i think it’s just a musical growth thing. like when you’re young and discover punk music- it’s this big revelation and takes over your mind. then we came across more technical, outside the box music and it was the same feeling. now that we’re adults and have further developed our brains we can appreciate all types of music and not feel limited.
AG: Where is that tour documentary, people? Those are such great trailers that have been kicking around for a while now.
the truth is that the documentary was finished, we saw it and weren’t happy with it. it was no one’s fault, it just didn’t have the right content for what we were hoping for. we don’t feel comfortable releasing something that we don’t stand by 100%. so we brought another friend along for a few more tours to gather more footage to eventually put something together that we were all stoked on. it will definitely get finished. as a side note, i literally- LITERALLY -as i was writing that last sentence just got a text message from our friend spencer at Sargent House saying they just got the hard drive with all the tour footage and want to get together to start re-editing. so that’s good news.
we’re really glad that people are that interested in our band to want to see the doc finished. even though we try to be really interactive with people and work towards dismantling the “wall” between fan and artist, i think a lot of people want to get further inside to see how it all comes together. i have no idea what the vibe will be- could be a fugazi “instrument” type thing or a pantera “home videos” kind of movie. we’ll see.
AG: I think I noticed people stopped describing you guys as “jazz,” once Vince left the band and once John joined. It’s always been a misnomer anyway, but can you relate to that descriptive shift? How do you feel about how you’ve been described, in general?
NR: well vince definitely came from a jazz background. our old guitar player actually met him in a jazz band class at a junior college. he had a very open, fluid approach to how he played drums in the band. when john had joined we were already heading in a bit of a different direction musically, one that jazzier drums might not be completely appropriate for. lucky for us john came from a punk background and brought a very different sound to the band. i think we initially got tagged with the jazz label because there were elements present for sure- weird timing, syncopation, ride cymbal twiddles and lots of 7th chords. i never really agreed with it, but it sounded cool. seems like people generally have a difficult time describing our music, which i think is a really good thing.
AG: What about improvisation live? On some old blog posts I remember you saying how much you liked it when bands change up their live sound, when they make mistakes, when surprising moments happen (yes, I remember those blog posts). It seems you consciously cater your live sound to that type of surprising experience. Is that about right? What motivates a very technical band like yours to take the risks involved in improvising every night?
NR: the improvisation is a result of a few things- wanting to have fun with songs and make them feel fresh to us, making mistakes and rolling with the punches and probably just a sever case of musical a.d.d. so for instance, if i had a photo of a dog and wanted to do 100 separate paintings of it, each one would be a little different. i’m sure after about ten very similar pup paintings i’d probably want to switch it up and make the dog’s eyes melting or something. naturally i’m sure there would be subtle differences in each one. then, because i’m not a super accurate, professionally skilled painter, i’d probably accidentally drip a fat blob of yellow paint onto the dog’s face. so i’d have to figure out some way to work around that. in the end, there would be 100 similar, yet fairly different paintings of a dog. that just seems natural to me. i don’t see why you’d do it any other way.
AG: Also, listening back on some of the bootleg recordings you posted on that old blog, it seems like you’ve been sitting on some material for a while – Kelly, specifically, which is titled “kelly, phone ya” Live From Atlas Clothing. Is it often that you’ll sit on material for a while, and wait for the right spot in an album to open up for it? Are we going to see some more “old” material popping up on X’ed Out?
NR: a lot of times there are just songs from the past that never got recorded, or didn’t come out the way we wanted, or that we just simply really liked and wanted to rerecord for fun. there’s a couple older pieces of material that pop up on this record. “melody nine” is a redone version of a song from our split with by the end of tonight. the original version was electronic based. we’ve been playing a live version of it for a couple years now. then the main riff for “sunburn” is one that i’ve used in a few songs that never really got a fair shot at being developed into a real part. i think i’d used that riff in 3 or 4 songs previously. that’s actually kind of neat. i not ashamed to admit that i’ve pirated my own guitar part, haha.
AG: Can you give us an interesting road anecdote? Something that characterizes Tera Melos’ interaction with audiences around the world?
NR: there’s this guy we know, he goes by “panda.” don’t know his real name. he lurks around the atlanta area. he’s this really far out, bizarre, awesome, critter dude that brings us bags and bags of random stuff everytime we come through town- broken guitar pedals, hats, tea, bags of pubic hair, cassette tapes, action figures, sidewalk chalk, video, furbies etc etc. you name it and he’s probably brought it to us. very odd. i think we have given him this music that’s very important to him and helps him out through life, so he just wants to give something back to us and contribute to our world. i know for a long time he didn’t know how to pronounce our name properly either. so that was funny. we’re misunderstood by even those that understand us the most. haha, deep.
AG: At a few points you had some somewhat eloquent things to say about pirating music. What are your current thoughts on this trend? Does a wide audience satisfy you more than money with which to scrape by? Or is music being widely distributed an investment on people showing up to shows later, or some other rationalizing logic? Is bandcamp solving the problem posed by music piracy?
NR: shoot i don’t really know. look, we want as many people to hear and enjoy our music as the universe will allow. but we’re also all pretty much 30 and would like this to be a sustainable source of income. so the question is where do we draw the line on how people hear/enjoy our music. if we’re playing a show that costs $10 and there are 5 people outside that don’t have $10, then without question we would want for them to be able to come in and watch us play. but then at what number of people without $10 do we say, “i don’t think so.” i mean, honestly, if there were 100 people that couldn’t afford the show, i’d want them all to come in for free or whatever they can afford. i think a lot of our fans know our vibe and that we’re not making fistfuls of cash playing in this band. if someone pirates a record then chances are they’re gonna buy a shirt. which i’m fine with. but actually, why not just buy the album and the shirt?? i don’t know, i get trapped thinking about this stuff. a solution to that particular situation would be- dude downloads record for free from a torrent, comes to the show, buys a shirt AND a vinyl, which comes with a download card anyways- then all is right in the world.
we also do the barter system- if someone can’t afford to pay for a show then they can bring us something cool and we’ll put them on our guest list. we’ve gotten cool music gear, razor scooters, video games, simpsons stuff and lots of other cool goodies that were probably just sitting around collecting dust in someone’s closet.
we just want lots of people to like what we’re doing and come to shows and help us afford to keep doing this. i don’t know how to make all of that fit. bandcamp definitely helps for sure. it puts the artist in control and let’s fans have a lot of access to music. buy music if you can, if you can’t- then take it, but you owe us one!
AG: How do you see yourself in the music world? Do you consider yourselves an active part of a very specific music scene (*cough* math rock *cough*), as much of the coverage of your band would like to portray? Or are you just a handful of dudes playing some weird music that happens to be similar to other handfuls of dudes playing some roughly similarly weird music?
NR: i’ve definitely given a lot of thought to our position in the music world, but i don’t think i ever come up with anything that satisfies me. i think it’s best for us to not think about that sort of stuff. we just create music that we enjoy and hopefully the rest of it all works out.
i know we’ve been pretty outspoken about the math rock thing and how we don’t prefer it. i think it’s mostly because we generally don’t really care for stuff that falls under that particular genre and most of it feels unrelatable to what we’re trying to accomplish. in 2001 we were all still in punk bands. fugazi had already started to shift some of our musical perceptions, but it was all still very much a “punk” context for us. then we discover bands like hella, dillinger escape plan and king crimson. those were all very big deals to us. once that switch is flipped there’s no really going back. then we start this new band. drummer shows us how to play in odd time signatures. everyone has fun. and that’s that. i do remember hearing the term math rock thrown around once or twice, but it was likely just in passing.
i guess it also seems like the current quality of math rock is definitely not what it was 10 years ago. it used to be a real musical subculture with deep roots, and now it’s just commonplace. feels like it’s been diluted, big time. when we saw bands like hella, the locust, botch or dillinger for the first time it was jaw dropping. like, shocking. it’s a bummer that the generation after us didn’t really get to witness such massive shifts in the music world like the ones we saw. i really don’t mean for that to sound pretentious. it just seems like the bar has been lowered for that kind of stuff. so maybe the internal problem i have with being labeled a math rock band has something to do with a fear of being a band playing under the “bar” that, for me, was set so high and blasted my mind open. we want to keep our band fresh and exciting. i still LOVE the idea of a community of bands that exist on the fringe and is working to move music forward. that’s what i want to be a part of.
AG: I’m now beginning to realize (being an oblivious east-coaster), that Tera Melos formed in a very interesting music scene. Can you wax poetic on your local scene of yesteryear? Are you considered the group that made it big from among them? What bands did you wish you were still playing shows with? How important was that scene to the band you are today?
NR: when we were younger nate and i were in punk bands that played around sacramento. there were some pretty crazy musical things happening (unbeknownst to us) up in grass valley/nevada city (about an hour north east of sacramento). bands like legs on earth (zach hill/spencer seim’s first band) were starting to play and freak people out. but it seemed pretty insulated and didn’t really trickle down into the sacramento punk scene. not that i remember at least. so in high school it was pretty much strictly punk and hardcore shows that we found ourselves hanging out at. at one point, in 2001, a friend of mine wanted to go see a band called chrime in choir. they were sort of this keyboard based, live electronic band. i think that’s how they were described to me. my friend told me they had this crazy drummer that could play drums like no one we’d seen before. i was really skeptical about that because there were a lot of great punk/hardcore drummers that we were really into. so we drove to a coffee shop in placerville (about 45 minutes outside sacramento) to see chrime in choir. turns out they had to cancel for some reason and instead a different band that shared the same drummer was going play. the band was hella (which would be zach and spencer’s second band after legs on earth). they played and just totally destroyed. from that point pretty much everyone in sacramento was shaken up. you’d even hear the crustiest of the punkers talking about these weird ripper guys from nevada city. there wasn’t really a local scene for that stuff yet. so hella played with punks bands, hip hop groups, hardcore bands etc. it was really trippy.
i don’t think we’d be the same band had we not come out of punk music. having that foundation was important in developing into an interesting band and how we allow it to breathe and exist. one of my all time favorite bands was this local band called diseptikons. they were a really fast hardcore punk/thrash band. they had this black flag/dri/early metallica vibe that was just paramount. incredible musicianship and great lyrics about the morals and ethics involved within the underground music scene. miss them for sure.
AG: Any parting words?
NR: “a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man” -jebediah springfield
Well spoken. Check out X’ed Out from Sargent House, out on April 16th. Preorder and listen to some tracks here: at Tera Melos’s bandcamp, and just generally scope them out on Facebook.
In my eighteen years of life, I’ve been exposed to many different types of music. My dad introduced me to Bruce Springsteen at a very young age, and my mom liked to talk about the Beatles as I grew up. I used to fall asleep in my dad’s arms as he danced me around to Chris Isaak and Frank Sinatra. On road trips we always turn on Little Steven’s Underground Garage, jamming to the most random yet awesome selection of songs ranging from Tracey Ullman’s old school They Don’t Know to The Dollyrots’ hit Because I’m Awesome. I’ve got a huge appreciation for older music of all kinds as well as newer hits found on stations like Little Steven’s, but I also find myself taking a look at the Top 100 every so often and trying to find some type of actual talent because, let’s face it, I can’t sit there and tell you that a song like Stupid Hoe gives me hope for humankind. Despite my lack of interest in music such as that, I still do my best to keep an open mind upon hearing something new, and I don’t let popularity of an artist (or lack of popularity) get in the way of my opinion. Whether 13 year old girls or the elderly are into a specific artist, I base my thoughts around what I have come to know about good music and I look at many different aspects of the overall song, album, or artist at hand.
Recently, I decided to take a look at an artist who I had been curious to learn more about for quite a while: Lana Del Rey. I was shocked to discover that what reeled me in at first was her vocal resemblance to Stevie Nicks, although Lana’s voice is much more pure. Her voice also has an interesting range, making her sound like an entirely different person at times. It’s debatable, though, whether her talent is used in a productive way or not. I came across a link on this site about her debut album, Born To Die (http://www.tinymixtapes.com/music-review/lana-del-rey-born-die), and discovered that Lana has implied that she just desires fame because she doesn’t want to be alone. For some reason, people think this (as well as her beauty) makes her a goddess when really she just seems to outright admit she isn’t really doing this for a respectable purpose. If I’m reading into it too much, let me know. I just think all forms of art should be very personal and meaningful to the artist and while that may be how Lana feels when writing, she doesn’t really help herself out when she acts like that doesn’t play a big role in her desire to release her work.
While I didn’t like a good chunk of Born To Die and agree with those who say it’s incredibly depressing as a whole, I was looking forward to the release of Paradise because the single she put out earlier, Ride, gave me a really good feeling about what would come next from the singer. While the music video for the song was all-around strange due to the dialogue and just added to my impression that Lana only craves a few things in life (fame, sex, getting high, much older men, sex, being reckless, party dresses, and sex), the song itself showed off her talent in a way I appreciated and I thought “hey, maybe this album will have less fluff and more quality”. This song makes me feel really good about her overall, because I see that she has the ability to showcase her voice beautifully. It’s still a bit depressing, that’s undeniable, but the chorus picks up and just makes you feel…good. It’s a freeing song. It’s nice. Because of this, I had high hopes for the second track on the newly-released Paradise, titled American. I’ll be honest, I can’t really tell where Lana is going with this song. However, I do think it shows off her vocals in a very flattering way much like Ride does, and she hooked me in when she complimented Springsteen by calling him “the king” (which is ironic considering she talks about Elvis in the second verse). Considering Springsteen is my favorite artist of all time, I was happy she could recognize good music and my heart felt all fuzzy inside and I thought “I knew this would be a great album! I knew it!”, which may have been a bit naive but I’m a sucker for Springsteen compliments. The track ended and my hopes were higher than ever as I eagerly awaited hearing the beginning line of the next song…
“My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola…”
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.
THIS is what it has come down to?! My literal thought was “WTF?!” Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. I can’t say I’m surprised because after all, it’s Lana Del Rey! But I really thought I was getting something different with this album, and she had led me on for two whole tracks. She’s also apparently trying to get the current man in her life (one of many) to cheat on his wife because his wife “wouldn’t mind”. She follows this up a bit later with “I pledge allegiance to my dad for teaching me everything he knows”. All I know is, if I was Lana’s dad, I would either be pissed at her for saying such a thing…or I’d be upset with my life choices because it would appear that I did something very very wrong.
Alright, next track: Body Electric. A track giving off false family history (close relations to both Elvis and Marilyn Monroe) and sharing Lana’s partying experiences with Jesus, who is her “bestest friend”. Enough said.
Up next we have Blue Velvet, which is nothing special but it’s a nice, calming song that I could probably pass out listening to if I wanted. It is followed by a song called Gods & Monsters, about how Lana wants to be “fucked hard” and how she’s just an “angel” living in a “garden of evil”. Literally the entire song is about how she wants it to be given to her…hard. It’s “innocence lost” despite how many other times she’s sung about her sex cravings and experiences. But my favorite part is the part where she goes “Like a groupie incognito posing as a real singer. Life imitates art.” Again, I might be reading into her quotes too deeply but it doesn’t get any more blunt than that. This is why “I’ve got a war in my mind” too, Lana. I can’t tell if I hate what you stand for because you have an amazing voice. They don’t exactly go hand in hand, but I can’t bring myself away from your music even though some of it makes me mad. The next track has a type of beauty to it; Yayo is suggestive but at least we don’t have to hear anything in-depth about her personal…er, flavor. Bel Air is what we end with, another track that isn’t so bad. Nothing about either track really stuck out to me besides Yayo having some impressive vocal range.
Overall, I can’t say I love this album. I expected it to be ten times better than what it is, but I’m also not surprised with the result. I guess that’s what you get with Lana Del Ray. I’m starting to wonder if she does this on purpose, how she mixes the really intense, weird stuff right in between some lighter, nicer tunes. What I can respect is that she supposedly writes every word she releases. I don’t know what to believe since I’ve read otherwise, but I’ve seen quotes from her about how she is the sole creator of every line. If she truly comes up with it all, that’s great, and in that way she isn’t putting her voice to waste. That almost makes up for the ridiculous path to which some of her lyrics travel. I will say, though, that if any of her crazier songs get to be the more popular singles that I hear on the radio, I’ll be pretty upset with whoever voted for them over something like Ride. I know that crazy things have become more of the norm, but why? Why do such ridiculous songs become so popular? If they were well-known because they are outright ridiculous, that’d make sense and I wouldn’t think twice about it. I get the whole “release it for shock-value” thing. Sure, go right ahead. It’ll give you fifteen minutes of fame and you can be on your way. But the idea that songs that have absolutely no point, are degrading, and have artists with absolutely no talent and that don’t put any work into the music…the idea that these songs are thoroughly enjoyed by the general public is what makes me sick. (Clearly I’m talking about things beyond the likes of Lana Del Rey at this point.) When I say “artists with absolutely no talent and that don’t put any work into the music” I do really like to put those two together because an artist with no strong vocal abilities can still manage to put out something great, especially in genres like rock n roll, punk, and metal. It’s an acquired taste, sure, but at least those artists still stand for something and get their points across the table. All I’m sayin’ is I’d like to see someone with a voice like Lana’s get recognition for the things she’s doing right rather than wrong.
Before this turns into any more of a semi-irrelevant rant on the modern-day music industry, I’ll conclude my review on this young lady by saying that I will probably purchase the Born To Die: Paradise Edition bundle simply because I do enjoy listening to her good work. I’m a person that likes having physical copies of CDs, so I’d rather buy the whole thing than just a few songs I REALLY like, because her other work is decent even though some of it is just weird. If I was her (even though I’d choose being Taylor Dodson over her any day), I would have just released the following lineup as ONE CD, maybe self titled or just called Born To Die or Paradise, whatever the hell sounds best:
1. Born To Die
2. Video Games
3. Dark Paradise
4. Million Dollar Man
5. Summertime Sadness
Naturally, her other work would have a setlist like this:
1. Off To The Races
2. Blue Jeans
3. Diet Mountain Dew
4. National Anthem
7. This Is What Makes Us Girls
8. Without You
10. Lucky Ones
12. Body Electric
13. Blue Velvet
14. Gods & Monsters
15. Bel Air
With the advent of Animal Collective’s ninth studio album (in addition to a number of EPs, videos albums, art installations, and God knows what else), one might be better off describing the record as not the ninth of Animal Collective, but the first of a new incarnation of the band – that could probably be said for every album they come out with. It’s frustrating as a fan to never be able to peg Animal Collective: one second you’re given the acoustic inclined Sung Tongs, then the heavier rock-centric Feels, then the plummeting electro-rock feeling Strawberry Jam, then the almost all sample-based electronic Merriweather Post Pavilion - and now here’s Centipede Hz, which, well, you can’t exactly put into any category at all. People are calling it dense, and dense is a good word to describe it nicely, because on first listen it comes off as almost unbearable. Picking out melodies and song structures and even basic instruments seems like a chore more than anything else, and that’s why true AC fans will have to give the album several listens before finally being able to appreciate its glory. Because, after all, it is pretty glorious.
Surprisingly, Centipede Hz finds itself being the album of the year that you really want to not like (last year’s: Chad VanGaalen’s Diaper Island). The album art is awful, as is the title, and so is the website where you can stream the album – most of this is thanks to Avey Tare’s sister, Abby Portner, who designed the aesthetics behind the album – but she’s probably right in the end to put this art with the album. Centipede Hz, following the success of Merriweather, was probably a struggle for the band, and it was better managed on 2010′s EP Fall Be Kind, which I’d consider just as good if not better than Merriweather. Centipede, however, isn’t better or equal to either of those – it’s something completely different. And with that said, it almost makes you kind of sad. If you’re a lifelong Animal Collective fan, you’re being thrown through a loop again – I’d say that Strawberry Jam is there best (controversial, I know), but Merriweather was their swan song – so what is Centipede Hz? Well, it’s probably best described as a group of guys who’ve known each other for ten years and have gotten together to make a record. And we at least owe them the decency of listening in.
It probably takes three or four listens to finally pick out songs on the album that you might actually enjoy, considering the opening “Moonjock” is so jolting compared to “In The Flowers” that you pretty much just want to turn off the record right away. Maybe it feels a little bit more like “Peacebone,” but probably more epic – it swerves and turns and doesn’t really let you get a hand onto it until you’ve listened to it enough to let it be. For me, it was really the second half of the album that grabbed me – after digging into “New Town Burnout,” and hearing Panda Bear’s melodic voice again, I found myself pleased by “Monkey Riches,” “Mercury Man,” and eventually “Amanita.” But pleased is really the best way to put it, because there’s no immediate draw here like “Brother Sport,” or “My Girls,” or even the older “Fireworks” or “Who Could Win A Rabbit?” Those songs present something automatically interesting, whereas Centipede Hz gives you none of that. “Today’s Supernatural,” the albums first single, even feels like a stretch – maybe like something coming from a jam session more than anything else. So it’s not surprising that that’s what it is: Centipede Hz was essentially comprised of fourteen hours of these dudes fooling around and picking out things that sounded good to them. Which I suppose is alright for guys who have been making music for so long, but for an audience that’s come to want something immediate from them, it’s disappointing.
There have been comparisons to older, psychedelic records when listening to this new one, but those are unwarranted: any likeness to Pink Floyd or other bands is completely ridiculous – Centipede Hz is its own thing, and unlike anything else produced by Animal Collective or any other band. It’s about as frustrating and upsetting as it can be. You won’t find me putting it on in my room and reading to it. You won’t find me listening to it from start to finish with my eyes closed. You probably won’t even find me jamming out to a song on it. But the real question is: is Centipede Hz good? Well, yes, it’s fantastic. Animal Collective have outdone themselves again, and put together a record that albeit a chore, is one that you enjoy doing – it’s a homework assignment that you pull apart until you find more and more layers to delight you. Sure, Merriweather and others made you feel something, but Centipede makes you want to feel something. And when it comes down to it, every song has something spectacular to offer, and is just as listenable as anything else the band has produced. It’s a disappointment only in the sense that it’s not what we wanted, but that doesn’t make it not amazing. I suppose the only real decision a listener has to make is if it’s worth their time; for my money, it most certainly is.
Seriously Shabazz Palaces. Who do you think you are?
I should preface this review by saying I don’t feel compelled to write a review of every show that I see now that we have this handy-dandy website that I can write show reviews on. But I can’t not say something about the Shabazz show. It was too good. Wayyyy too good. I knew it would be good, but even I wasn’t prepared.
I’ll start at the end. “Thanks for coming and checking us out,” were the last words spoken by frontman (I admit, this title is debatable, but for lack of a better word I’ll call him a frontman) Ishmael Butler aka “Palaceer Lazaro,” after their hour-long, non-step set. “You’d be stupid not to!” Was the response from some seemingly star-struck fan in the crowd. I won’t name any names (Jake Fisher), but seriously, you’d be stupid not to.
Back to the beginning. They came out of nowhere. I’m not even sure if they entered from backstage or crept up from the side or what…I literally don’t even remember. They were just there. Lazaro and partner Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire filled the stage immediately with a presence that obviates all eloquence – in speech, and in writing. These guys are badass. There is no other word. Profanity is a necessity.
There are comparisons, though. Lazaro’s entire look seemed to be drawn from the ’80s (think: updated MC Hammer), while Maraire looked slightly reminiscent of Bob Marley. When they started to play, they immediately busted out into synchronized, choreographed dancing (think: updated Morris Day and the Time) that could have easily strayed into the realm of campy, except that it didn’t. Not even a little bit. That’s the thing about these guys, is that they were just dripping with references to the past, and yet nothing about them was unoriginal. And it’s because when that first bass drum hit filled the room you were immediately transported away from the venue, away from past, away from the present, even, and into another universe. Shabazz Palaces didn’t emerge from any genre, really. They emerged from a spacecraft and swiftly converted their extraterrestrial powers into an unearthly noise we humans can only meekly describe as hip-hop.
And, I guess it was a hip-hop show, at its bare bones. The opener was a hip-hop act, the DJs doing sets between acts played hip-hop, I even danced like I would dance to hip-hop. But I’m just not sure. Their ambiguity was obvious to me early on, with their album Black Up. Besides the fact that is signed to Sub Pop, a predominantly white, girly, indie label, there are certain production choices that seem to place it in another realm. At first I wanted to label this as inexperience, or immaturity. I thought, these guys really have something going for them, they just need to refine it a little bit. Kind of like I think Janelle Monae is a genius but some of her lyrical content is a little bit immature. Seeing Shabazz live totally changed my mind. I don’t think they’re going for hip-hop, which is why some of their production choices seem a little bit strange. I also think some of the things they do don’t really translate into album at all. There’s too much going on. Lazaro was playing a drum machine, laptop, sampler, and using a vocoder all at the same time. Maraire, aptly described as a “multi-instrumentalist” by Wikipedia, was playing bongos, a tom-tom, a drum machine, a shaker thing, no, wait, multiple shaker things, another noisy thing, so many things! And that thing that’s so infamously used in “An echo…” (speaking of which, they kind of played that song, but not really, they just played around with that sample that sounds like a choir of babies and used the “thing” — God, what is that thing???). He was also vocoding his voice. See what I’m saying? There’s a lot going on. You have to see it live to get what it all means, and why they’re not just a hip-hop act. They give the word “Sub Pop” a whole new meaning. Yeah, it’s a sub-category of Pop. Not Pop, not hip-hop, just…something.
And even calling them an “act” feels wrong. I could say that Maraire and Lazaro are incredible performers, but they’re not. Performing implies that some kind of charade is being put on, that something could go wrong, that you’re not being yourself entirely. No, these guys weren’t performing. They were abducting. Abducting us into their alien noise. Everyone in the audience got taken to planet Shabazz that night (any coincidence that they were playing at Mad Planet? PS, if you haven’t seen a show there, do it). They did everything right. They played what we wanted to hear, and they played stuff we hadn’t heard ever before but now we’re eager to hear it again. They were obviously quite comfortable playing material from Black Up but they never strayed into boredom or looked like they were doing something routine, and the new stuff they played looked like they had been doing it for years. I was very much absorbed in the world they created up on stage. Their attention to the music was never broken and neither was mine. I felt a kind of strange awe that I was allowed to view them, and I still kind of feel it. Maybe Wilmer and I got abducted into a parallel universe that just looks like earth but we’re not really back on earth yet at all. (I didn’t make this connection last night, but Wilmer and I saw a shooting star on our drive home…”You think I’m selfish, exist only to wish on stars….” Too weird.)
I had an art history professor tell my class that the average person today doesn’t know what the avant-garde is. And now I know why. It’s because it comes from another planet, and occasionally lands on earth to play shows. Shabazz’s tour schedule says they’re off to Chicago next…I think we all know that’s a lie. You can’t hide from the humans now that we’ve seen you. Now that we know who you are….
As the newest, youngest, and most innocent employee at the great WLFM, I – Peter Raffel, of On Patrol, Mondays 7-9 PM CT, decided to introduce myself to those who seem me as merely a question-mark-cog in the machine that is our amazing station. And in order to do so in a manner that will help my fellow music snobs trust my judgement in deciding what is good and what is bad (with not as much dilemma as Rachele seems to be having), I’ve decided to give you all a brief list of ten albums that have changed my life over the course of my broad nineteen years. Note the difference between “favorite” and “life-changing” here (for example: I’d argue that Ciara’s Goodies changed my life, but wouldn’t include it on a top 1000 list). And so, without further ado, I give you ten albums that brought me to the humble abode that is WLFM:
Abbey Road, The Beatles – It’s an obvious favorite album of all people with ears and a brain in their head, but Abbey Road was my first foray into the ideology that an album could be more than simply a handful of songs. Beautifully crafted, and amazingly executed (as well as being the Beatles best album – that’s right, the BEST), Abbey Road taught me about great music, great struggle, and great love during the course of its forty-seven minute majesty. At the ripe age of five, I was already on the road to what would eventually bring me to where I am – telling people that what they like is terrible and what I like is awesome.
The Wall, Pink Floyd – Although I would consider Animals to be the greatest Floyd album, my dissection of The Wall had escaped me until this year when I brushed the dust off of its placid cover and plunged into its depths once again. The utterly desolate and incredibly exquisite double album is the quintessential concept record, that drains the listener more and more with each listen. I was memorizing the ideas of loneliness at the young age of eight, and learning that great music needs to be full of great emotion.
Speakerboxx/The Love Below, OutKast – I could obviously go on and on about Outkast for years, but Speakerboxx/The Love Below was the defining point in which my music career switched from 70s Rock ‘n Roll to everything else – because, essentially, Outkast’s two-solo-albums-in-one can’t really be categorized into one genre, and it’s what makes Andre 3000 in particular one of the few geniuses of our generation. Taking concepts that feel repeated constantly on modern rap albums, OutKast turned them into something tangible, vulnerable, and most of all, sexy as all hell.
Illinoise, Sufjan Stevens – Perhaps it’s a bit of a cliche to put Stevens’ best-known album on a list like this, but I probably picked apart this album more than any I ever had. I’d listen to it endlessly in middle school, trying to decipher what was Stevens and what was fiction – and I never really got the answers, which is part of the genius of Stevens as a musician and an artist. History, emotion, love, loss, all encompassed within one album – when you look at it this way, it makes a lot more sense that he never completed the 50 States Project, because he completed it with Illinoise, particularly the harrowing “John Wayne Gacy Jr.,” which combines the sickness of mankind with the softness of humanity.
Late Registration, Kanye West – During an era in which rap was essentially minimalistic beeps-and-boops (see: D4L) or ambitious insanity projects (see: Missy Elliott), West brought it back to the classic with his follow-up to The College Dropout, and this album was essentially the road the paved the way for what he is today. Great beats, mixed with great rhymes, West took a page out of OutKast’s book by tearing song structure apart and teaching a white seventh grader that being into rap was cool as long as you knew that Gil-Scott Heron was being sampled on “My Way Home.”
Skelliconnection, Chad VanGaalen – Probably one of the most underrated singer-songwriters of our generation, VanGaalen’s Skelliconnection is his masterpiece, which combines his harrowing voice with a variety of musical styles, from acoustic pieces to explosive jams (especially the opener, “Flower Gardens”). It was a time in which the eeriness of the world could be matched with “Wing Finger,” the sadness matched with “Sing Me 2 Sleep,” and the amazement matched with “Dead Ends.” And maybe it was because I was graduating middle school, and because Harry Potter was ending, but something about VanGaalen stuck, and this album has been on repeat ever since.
Microcastle, Deerhunter – Bradford Cox and company have had a bizarre roller coaster of a musical career, but the beauty that is Microcastle essentially wraps up what they’re all about in a tight album – there’s no real arc or beginning or end, and in the final moments of “Twilight at Carbon Lake,” one knows that no matter how many times they listen to the album, they’re going to be listening again. And in the times before I was able to drive where I wanted to go, it made the most sense to plug in to “Agrophobia” and simply become one with the album that knew me better than I knew myself.
Person Pitch, Panda Bear – I’ve considered on countless occasions that Person Pitch may be my favorite album of all time, despite the varying levels of my enjoyment based on track (I used to go by Strawberry Jam as my favorite and “Bros” as my favorite song, but that changed (more on that later)), and I think it’s very telling that I’ve chosen this album as the one that stays with me no matter where I end up. The amazing comfortability of “Take Pills” (no pun intended i.e. “Comfy in Nautica”) on early morning bike rides, and the insanity that is “Bros” and “Good Girl/Carrots” is a constantly changing beast no matter how many listens, and Panda Bear is at the center of it: one man with a vision, a heart, and a place in a teenager’s mind as a hero.
This Is It…, Marnie Stern – Although Marnie Stern’s music tends to ride the fine line between utterly wild and utterly wholesome, I probably listened to This Is It… more than any album in 2008 strictly because of how catchy the songs were, matched with the awe I felt for her as a guitarist – and Zach Hill as a drummer, who I still can’t even believe is a person. I’d do Art History homework for hours on end listening to the album over and over again, and I immediately fell in love with Stern (probably for real). And although it isn’t nearly as personal of an album as her self-titled 2010 effort, it sinks into you the more you listen to it – and considering how much I listened to it, I’d say it stuck.
Public Strain, Women – As with growing up, Women’s Public Strain has taken on a different face over time, so much so that I cannot explain its grasp on me. I’ve listened to it countless times and yet it always seems new – it’s been changing my life from the day it came out until now (I’d call “Eyesore” my favorite song of all time – there, I said it). It’s an album full of hopelessness, but more hope than anything else, and something about the way these guys weave their guitars together, as well as their poetry-esque lyrics, makes me feel like there’s hope for music overall. And even if there isn’t, we’ll always have Public Strain, an ode to everything that is great about music and will continue to be great.
Well, there it is. I hope I gained your trust at least a little bit. Now I’m going to go cry after thinking about all of these beautiful albums. And, for the record, yes, Goodies did change my life. I mean, how could it not?
This morning, the swallowing of peanut butter and toast triggered more than just digestive juices in me. Thanks peanut butter and toast, how quaintly you relate to my argument.
I’m not just rambling about toast here because I love peanut butter (even though ohmygod I love peanut butter more than most things). I’m actually rambling about music and movies and life and stuff. I swear.
I’ve been noticing a trend in music and movies and life and stuff lately…or really, I should I say I noticed the trend over toast this morning. I was reading an article about Bjork’s new album, “Biophilia,” in the New York Times which I found to be quite helpful, as I often completely miss the point of albums until I have listened to them ten or twenty times. I wouldn’t totally call “Biophilia” a concept album, but it is definitely an album with a concept. In this case the concept is the universe. And viruses. And the body. (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s called biophilia. Like I said, I’m slow). More importantly the album is about how the self is just a reaction and interconnection to and within these larger forces. She sings about the planets in a way that make it seem as if they are human bodies with as many feelings as you or me or anybody. She talks about viruses as if she is crooning about love and flowers. Maybe it is because Bjork is from Iceland, which has always seemed like another planet to me. It’s a country where there are still volcanoes and glaciers, and yet, you have to walk out your door everyday and find meaning to life amongst untamed nature. Pretty intense shit.
I have also seen this theme in a 2011 album by Jenny Hval entitled, “Viscera.” Please do yourself a favor and listen to this album. It’s like Lush infused with Laura Marling and a smutty 13-year old’s diary. It’s incredible. But it’s uncannily similar to Bjork’s album in the way that it makes everyday bodily functions seem like the most monumental events. It’s a bit more blatant than “Biophilia.” You can easily pick out the word “erection” at least four times within the first three tracks, and the first track sounds like it could be a passage from Cosmo magazine with all of its scandalous talk of clitorises (clitori?) and electric toothbrushes. But it’s just so EPIC. The third track, “Portrait of the Young Girl As An Artist,” explodes with a Bark Psychosis-like energy that gets me every time. I don’t know how you transition from boners to epicness. Or maybe, I just never though of it before. Hval teaches us to celebrate our human qualities. They’re not gross, they’re beautiful.
Last but certainly not least (or, idk, maybe it’s just as irrelevant as everything else in the whole universe) is “The Tree of Life,” 2011. I watched this movie way too late. And by that I mean I should have watched it everyday since I’ve been born. It would have saved me so much hell through high school and hormones and so many other equally tragic events. Terrence Malick succeeds in telling a pretty normal story about a boy’s life in the context of the whole universe, and all of creation. Scenes of growing up are juxtaposed with scenes of dinosaurs. Science. Biology. Puberty. The Big Bang. Texas. At the same time that we feel like everything is insignificant we also feel like our whole existence should be celebrated. Who the fuck can do that? I don’t think the Bible could even achieve that.
I think I have to stop. It’s 9:30 in the morning and I have Spanish in 20 minutes. I could go on. I could talk about the book I recently read called “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera where the characters have urges to empty their bowels in the midst of sexual interactions. But, I think you get the point (and I guess I’m only technically supposed to write about music on here). I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this theme was a trend and why it is important. I know it isn’t really a new theme either…I think “Unbearable Lightness” was written in the ’80s (that date could be really wrong). From taking tons of art history I know that there is usually also a social or political context for most recurring themes in art. I’m not sure I know the context this time. The world is fucked up? Sure. The point is I’ve been seeing this theme a lot lately, and I need to see it. We all do. Just remember: your life is important. So is the universe, and so is your strep throat. But in the end, none of it’s that important.
Since working at WLFM I’ve experienced a very strange phenomenon: I can’t distinguish between good and bad anymore. Ok, so maybe that’s a little bit extreme – I can definitely tell that chocolate cookies are way superior to any kind of cookie with fruit in it, and I also can tell that Keanu Reeves is a bad actor and Daniel Day Lewis is a rather good actor. But when it comes to music…lately I’ve been confused.
Why is this? You would think that working at WLFM would give me exactly the tools I need to become a supreme music snob of the snobbiest variety. It all seems very simple: You put the CD in, it plays, if you like it, it gets added to the ever-growing WLFM archives, if you don’t, it gets tossed in the pile with the other rejects. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. And, it is not as simple as it sounds. For awhile I felt like more of the stuff that came into the station was getting thrown into the ‘reject’ pile, regardless of whether it was ‘good’ or not. I think it has something to do with the caliber of music we get into the station on a day-to-day basis. The majority of it is crap on a stick. Crap in a jewel case. Whatever you prefer to call it, it’s crap. If I get one more singer-songwriter by the name of Kary Leslie Casy Marie or something or other, I think I might just take a crap. Potty mouth aside, this is the kind of stuff we get into WLFM Every. Single. Day. And, there are definitely indications as to whether an album will be good or not. We usually have some clues- the promoter we got it from, the record label, whether or not there is a cheesy Photoshop job on the cover of the album – all kinds of things. I should be able to distinguish between good and bad easy as cake….or in my case, cookies. But for some reason, when I put on an album in the office, it automatically just sounds like crap in a jewel case.
Seriously…I have rejected albums that I have seen later on top review sites. For example, I didn’t add Thee Oh Sees new album “Carrion Crawler” when it first came out. Then, about two weeks ago I saw it on Tiny Mix Tapes’ Top 50 Albums of the Year List…at like number 25. Of course I automatically went back into the digital .zip files and added it into SAM, but the whole time I was thinking, where did I suddenly get the authority to just throw a CD into the physical or digital reject pile? I mean, for the most part, I trust my taste. I have made a point to try and seek out the rare, the beautiful, the meaningful, the underground, and, dare I say it, the ‘good’ music of the world. I try to listen to all kinds of music, blah blah blah, [insert 'I have diverse tastes' claim here]. Point is, I know a lot about music and I think I have a good sense of when something has artistic merit or not. But I guess I have lost my touch recently. Maybe it is a matter of context, and I have just come to associate the WLFM office with the mediocre. I think I just need to open up my eyes, take a look at the walls around me that are covered in the remnants of posters of top-notch bands, and realize that not everything I get in is junk. With that said, recently, I haven’t been as tough. I would say I’ve gone from ‘music Nazi’ to ‘music Glinda the Good Witch’ in the last couple of weeks, adding everything that comes in, even if I know nobody would ever listen to it if they were being held down and tortured by Kary Leslie Casy Marie herself.
I think I just need to find the middle ground. To trust myself. To use my ears again instead of just using my throw-away powers. To realize that this is why I got the job in the first place: because I know that chocolate cookies are good and fruit cookies are bad.
Hey all! There will be an abundance of new music filling the computer tomorrow and Tuesday! I thought I’d take some time to update you on the goods: what we have now and what we’re getting!
–The new M83 is pretty damn epic. It’s called “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” Off of Mute Records, Alex Gonzales has really outdone himself. 22 songs, 2 CD’s, close to 74 minutes of music. In an attempt to avoid a full-out review, you guys should just check him out. M83 made it to #3 on the CMJ charts for this last week.
–Coldplay also has a new album out. It’s called “Mylo Xyloto.” Whatever the fuck that means. Coldplay. What? Does Josh like Coldplay? Seriously? Where’s the prestige in that? Yeah, I like Coldplay. Parachutes and Rush of Blood used to dominate my CD player back in the dark, dark age of High School – we’re talking Freshman year. Ok, X&Y was terrible, and their first two albums were The Bends for popular radio, but I gotta give it to Chris Martin. God can he write a hook. Viva la Vida re-sparked my interest in their shit because I must admit something else: I’m addicted to Brian Eno. He’s back on this one. But he’s shed the production credit and added the “Enoxification” credit. Rachele and I have been loving the lead single “Paradise.” We have this one in the physical. Don’t steal it.
–The new Justice album “Audio, Video, Disco” will be hitting our shelves tomorrow. It’s Justice. You guys know “D.A.N.C.E.” like the back of your hand. They’re French. They probably know know David Guetta is. And they can still make a great dance record. Check it out.
–Pterodactyl – “Spills Out”. This one’s off the record label “Brah”. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s great, brah.
The Digital – On the computer
–We’re super excited about the new Tom Waits album – “Bad as Me”. He’s Tom Waits. Pretty much the baddest bad ass playing music. And he still manages to swing from “Bad As Me” and “Hell Broke Luce” to “Kiss Me” and “New Year’s Eve.” One of the better records we’ve added this year. Seriously, spin this one.
–We now have the entire “Smile Sessions” by the Beach Boys. Probably one of the most mythical albums to fall through the cracks. Capitol just released a re-mastered, official version of what-would-have-been Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Park’s masterpiece. It’s nearly 30 tracks of amazing late-60′s psychedelic pop. Surf’s Up, brahs.
–David Lynch’s “Crazy Clown Time” will be getting a spot in our digital folder. Check out what he’s doing. It’s probably crazy.
–Kurt Vile and Real Estate have new one’s out. They’ll also be getting the add.
I thought I’d take a moment to welcome you all to the Top 200 section of our new flashy website. We’ll be posting our favorite albums, recommendations and miscellaneous other nonsense. For the time being, I thought I’d post a couple of albums Rachele and I have been loving. Expect updates like this in the future!!! We’ll also be posting our spins/adds and CMJ related Top 200 news.
Keep Scrolling, for formatting, the videos are down lower.