Goo Is You Essential Albums #4: “The Pink Album”(LP2)

Even the thought of making a record as good or better than Diary is madness. Diary was a watershed moment in alternative rock music. There are two primary points in the emo timeline: before Diary and after it. It was a genre-defining, category-defying masterwork. It was a celestial and heavenly work of art. It means everything to people like me.

It’s my life’s blood.

The eponymous “Pink Album” (also known as LP2) was released in 1995, only a year after Diary and several months after the band’s first breakup. “The Pink Album” is a marvelous record. Like The Beatles album its packaging makes reference to, “The Pink Album” is a multi-layered, extremely complex, and curious release. I love albums that take their name from colors and I feel that there is something to color theory that lends music an even more significant meaning. Toning down the passion of red with the purity of white results in the softer pinks that are associated with romance and the blush of a young woman’s cheeks. Since pink is really a mixture of red and white, it’s almost more of  hue or a tint than an independent color. “The Pink Album” is is a projection of pink atmospherics. It’s a celebration of every complicated quality of its chosen, designated color.

While there are hints of Diary in “The Pink Album’s” makeup, it’s certainly not as broken or emotionally demanding as it. Pink is a transformative color by definition. “The Pink Album” marks a deep spiritual change in band leader Jeremy Enigk, but we’ll get to that in just a bit. Let’s continue to focus on color theory, the psychological definitions of pink, the philosophy of pink, and Sunny Day Real Estate’s sonic application of pink.

Pink is one of the more delicate colors. It’s feminine, it’s inexpensive to produce, and it’s loud. Contemporary color theory posits that pink is tender and charming. They are choice colors for flowers as gifts for romantic partners because of the color’s inherent cuteness and associations with renewal. In conclusion, consider the following: Although sunburned skin and watermelons are pink’s natural associations, the color is loaded with historical meaning, knee-jerk reflexes and cliches. In some cases, it is quite appropriate; in others, perhaps the only cliche worth using is one, which is ripe for a vivid transformation.

If we use pink’s symbolic transformative qualities to make sense of the album’s overall color-coded meaning, we would have some pretty powerful evidence in our corner. Jeremy Enigk experienced a transfiguration in his own life. He deeply and suddenly gave himself to Jesus Christ and converted to Christianity. His newfound spiritual devotion is said to have led to the dissolution of Sunny Day Real Estate. Although Enigk, Hoerner, and the rest of the band have all denied these claims, none have gone so far as to assert that Enigk’s unexpected spiritual change didn’t at least factor into it.

Enigk was only twenty-years-old when he made Diary. It was a smart record about abstract and broken feelings. Less than one year later, he found God. “The Pink Album” is never overtly about conversions or about Christ. Even when 5/4 makes a vertically literal reference to the New Testament’s savior, the arrangements are too musically intellectual and challenging–too lyrically isolated to be heard as a song of praise. “The Pink Album” is certainly is bit more energetic than Diary but it’s not an altogether lighthearted experience. Its tracks are mostly shorter and more immediate but Enigk’s lyrics remain just as unclear as before and his vocal delivery conjures the same alien qualities as Diary.

“The Pink Album”, while parts of it do sound like a more self-assured Enigk who’s become increasingly confident in many sonic aspects, it does not seem to represent an emotionally healthy songwriter in the indescribable throes of begin born-again. Enigk still expresses a damaged, unalterably broken pathos. Enigk’s lyrics are so indirect that they can be said to hold as many different meanings that free-association can account for. Enigk’s even states in interviews that most of them amounted to sheer nonsense.

“On a lot of songs, there aren’t lyrics! In a lot of cases, we never sat down to write them, because we just wanted to get it out of the way as fast as possible. So I just sang a lot of gibberish, which makes it really quirky. My favorite is the Japanese translations.” –Jeremy Enigk on writing “The Pink Album’s” lyrics

Could have fooled me. All I hear in these songs are emotive blasts of visceral impact. Even Enigk spouting random words off the top of his head can make my life better. He’s right about the quirkiness though, there truly is a more ebullient sonic characteristic in many of the songs. That has to do more with the zest with which they are played than the musical language they possess. Enigk still hits you hard with well-placed screams and deliberately calculated pathos. It’s this therapeutic and inspired quietLOUDquietLOUD musical performance on the LP that expands on the grammar of Diary‘s more accessible tracks like Shadows and devotes itself to poppier, albeit Martian terrain. This an emo album for depressive energizer bunnies.

“The Pink Album” is less sincere than Diary, which was a very vulnerable LP that capitalized on brokenness and projected raw and precise emotional truths. “The Pink Album” sounds a lot more like Sunny Day Real Estate the band just playing incredible music, freed from Diary‘s more deliberate conceptual soundscapes. Where Diary provoked very specific reactions through meticulous sonic designs, “The Pink Album” sounds positively carefree in in contrast.

This isn’t to imply that “The Pink Album” is any less musically exact than its predecessor. In a way, Sunny Day Real Estate’s painstaking methodologies remain virtually intact. The songs sound a bit looser, kind of quirky and animated, but they’re still bound by masterful designs. What’s most strikingly different about Diary and “The Pink Album” is that the latter is not as dedicated to absolute emotional openness. Diary used innovative sonic acrobatics to describe the indescribable. “The Pink Album” takes different, partly parallel avenues to achieve similar, but less affecting results.

“The Pink Album” doesn’t have an underlying theme. These are not songs with a unified musical goal. They’re just amazing songs collected on the same record. Diary was about transporting you directly inside of Enigk’s heart and it was about composing beautifully detailed songs that allowed for the highest amount of pathos possible. “The Pink Album” is about a band at the peak of their musical ability, playing for the fun of it, and allowing a song’s power to emerge organically. It’s the sonic expression of bittersweet emotions. This is a happy sad record. It’s a very careful framework that even songs like Rodeo Jones (recorded during the Diary sessions) fit seamlessly into.

“The Pink Album” is a balancing act between two competing factions: the meaningful and the meaningless. The most fascinating thing about the LP is the intimate connection between these two equally valuable camps. This is what Sunny Day Real Estate explore on “The Pink Album”. It’s about the intimacy between what is meaningful and meaningless, significant and unimportant, powerful and absurd, holy and profane. It’s about how one is turned to the other and vice versa. It’s about conversions. It’s about closeness.

Enigk uses many tools to accomplish Sunny Day Real Estate’s more complicated sonic goals. It’s his lyrical indirectness and alienated, incredibly tender vocal delivery that he most utilizes to express forever and demonstrate infinity. Jeremy Enigk and Sunny Day Real Estate possessed ineffable talent and absolutely transcendental qualities.

As I’ve said before, Jeremy Enigk is emo music’s Wolfgang Amadeus. The songs on Diary and “The Pink Album” are nothing short of incendiary symphonies of sound, color, and feeling. This isn’t meant to be read as hyperbolic. What I’m saying is something I wholeheartedly believe. Sunny Day Real Estate composed the most beautiful music I have ever heard. In Enigk’s universe, Mozart wore pink.

The most incredible thing about “The Pink Album” is the sonic conversation that takes place between the guitars and bass. It’s a different dialect than the one that Diary both defined and perfected all in the same place just one year earlier. For one thing, Nate Mendel’s bass assumes a more prominent role in the songs, flexing a more talkative musical character. Dan Hoerner seems to establish his guitar-work within more flexible arrangements, providing “The Pink Album” with a catchy readiness that takes advantage of the LP’s idiosyncratic makeup. The way the band feeds off each other definitely doesn’t sound like there’s a barrier between them or that they’re in the process of breaking up. In fact, they sound positively unified. Enigk and Hoerner embark on an excellent sonic discourse, one that fully captures the uniqueness and sonic propulsion of this extremely gorgeous record. Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith  combine to provide “The Pink Album” with a more punk-minded, indie-aware rhythm section that boasts a remarkably well-defined structural confidence and creativity.

Goo Is You Essential Albums #3: Diary

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Diary is one of the most beautifully composed pieces of music in the world. It’s emo music’s most perfect and enduring symphony of sound and feeling.

I’m not going to fake anything. Diary is my favorite album ever recorded. I have my reasons. They range from the most deeply personal ruminations to an intense love of its astounding sonic grammar. It’s Jeremy Enigk’s voice, his screams, and the tender brokenness of it all.

Sew it on
Face the fool
December’s tragic drive
When time is poetry
And stolen the world outside
The waiting could crush my heart

Sunny Day Real Estate are the kind of band you know really well even if you’ve never heard them before. Your favorite bands wouldn’t exist without them. You’ve heard Jeremy Enigk’s unique style many times, only you’ve heard it through the bell jar of imitation. Just listen to the way Enigk and Hoerner’s guitars speak to each other on a track like 47 and you’ll understand how often that special sonic conversation has been replicated since but never with the same uniquely emotive results.

I first heard Diary when I was very, very young. The memory of the CD cover is like one of those super cloudy, early ones that bring to mind fondness and warmth. It was that long ago. I remember buying it with the money I had earned from doing chores for my parents. I remember Seven and I remember being confused by it. It wasn’t like the kind of music I was familiar with. It required patience. It required devotion. I would listen to the album constantly, chipping away at its impenetrability bit by bit until I found myself absorbed in its sonic colors. I remember the day I understood Diary and I remember the day it saved my life. I remember the times I needed it more than ever.

The night I needed Diary the most was probably when I was sixteen. I really hadn’t listened to it in years at that point, apart from the occasional spin of Seven or In Circles, and it was the farthest thing from my mind musically. I was thinking awful thoughts. I was thinking about hurting myself badly. I was thinking about means and ends. Typical adolescent depression reshaped itself into a nascent curiosity when I accidentally knocked over a shelf, letting a stack of CDs fall on my bedroom floor. Oddly/Magically enough, Diary was the first disc I picked up off the ground. I gave it a listen. It wasn’t just the comfort and familiarity of an album I knew inside and out that got to me, it was the fact that it was speaking to me vibrantly and with a brand new and reinvigorated sonic tongue. I believe it saved me. I would never be so melodramatic as to credit it with ‘saving’ me from something like suicide, I almost certainly wouldn’t have done that. But I definitely would have done something harmful to myself and accidents do happen. To be honest, I was entirely fatalistic at that age and I needed to hear something beautiful.

Diary is the beautiful thing that changed everything for me.

Diary‘s beautiful losers saved me from myself. Thanks, guys.

The other time I my life depended on Diary was… well, it’s right now. An era in my life is ending. A seven year engagement is reaching its ultimately anticlimactic and tragic resolution. My life is changing in a monumental way. I need a sonic pill. I need sonic medicine. I need to feel cared for and understood. I need to listen to Diary. I need to make it the air I breathe. I need Diary for my mental health and for my future. I need these songs.

Seven is one of the greatest ones ever written. It’s a flawless emo anthem. With Enigk waxing poetic over gorgeous guitar noise. The moment of complete euphoria comes when Enigk shifts from the verse’s anxiety-riddled melody to the acrobatic, heart-rending chorus of, “You’ll taste it. You’ll taste it in time.” I swear to God. Every time Enigk kicks in with those particularly abstract-enough-to-break-my-heart lyrics and the tempo makes that vertical leap into sonic bliss territory, my beautiful life swoons. Seven causes something tender inside of me to faint from beauty and something else to rise with power.

Jeremy Enigk is emo music’s Mozart. He fused the energy of punk with the slow-burn methodology of Seattle grunge, all while deconstructing the quietLOUDquietLOUD practice of college radio indie rock to its ultimately fragile and hyper-emotive ends and forged a uniquely postmodern balladry in the process. Jeremy Enigk is more than emo prodigy. He’s a musical deity. His work with Sunny Day Real Estate–particularly Diary, The Pink Album, and How it Feels to Be Something On–are life-changing symphonies of sound and feeling. Enigk, along with guitarist Dan Hoerner, not only perfected pre-existing soundscapes but painstakingly and remarkably created one of their own. An even more gorgeous one at that.

Diary is a faultless piece of music. Every infinitesimal aspect of every gigantically intoxicating song is utterly and achingly precious. Sunny Day Real Estate as an orchestra divine. They conjure and shape beatific soundscapes from dreadful feelings. Diary is serenity from calamity and triumph from terror. These are songs about upsetting things and they sound very, very sad the way Sunny Day Real Estate plays them. This does not negate the sense of control Enigk wields over the trauma of each song though. Sunny Day Real Estate do not heal you completely, because to be healed of sadness is to become numb to it. Numbness is not beneficial to anyone and it’s an anti-romantic mindset. Sunny Day Real Estate are not anti-romantic. In fact, they’re head over heels with their depression. They rebel against emotional paralysis and devote themselves to embracing unbearable and unidentifiable feelings. Sunny Day Estate teaches you how to control your sadness, how to contain it in a healthy space, and how to derive helpful meanings from even the most isolating emotional cataclysms.

You can leave your unhappiness in Diary like an actual diary. You can use it as a place to store your bad feelings and return to them later. Treat the songs like individual pages and scrawl your emotional dissatisfaction on them. Make Diary a private journal where you scribble your embarrassing poetry in secret, explore unrealistic possibilities, lament lost loves, and experiment with abstract ruminations. Make it a safe place for you to be completely broken inside of. Let Diary be your diary.

Curl your toes in the Sub Pop sand. Swim in Sunny Day Real Estate’s ocean. Get lost in the gorgeously vague coral reef.

In Circles and Song About An Angel explore intricate songwriting dynamics, whereas others like Shadows and Round devote themselves to more radical methods. All of the songs sound completely breakable though, as if they’d shatter on the floor if you dropped them. They sound delicate and they sound pure. They are terse and they are generous.

Vocal deliveries like the ones on Sometimes and The Blankets Were the Stairs are enough to snap your spine in two. Enigk’s voice is beyond powerful, he sings with an impact not unlike emotional atomic bombs. He’s able to express so much with subtle inflections. The tonal, totally concise cadence of Enigk’s singing when juxtaposed by his rhythmically problematic, gorgeously sad and poignant shouting over crunching and beaming guitar arrangements make the songs on Diary eternal. His voice is not an extra addition to the musical composition of the songs, it’s an integral part of their sonic structure. His voice expresses the same pathos as the musical make-up of the tracks, ensuring them a legacy.

Enigk’s incredible vocals do not distract from the beautiful composition of the songs. Enigk’s incredible vocals provide integrity to the intricate sonic framework.

Something like Diary only comes once in a lifetime. Sunny Day Real Estate were music’s most beautiful and saintly losers. Jeremy Enigk in 1994 was something to behold and to someone to treasure. Sunny Day Real Estate were golden.

Diary is sonic tragedy on tape. It’s the pure feeling of melancholy fully realized as an orchestrated sound. It’s gloom not as some sort of emotional concept, but as a musical quality. These are arrangements that move the same way emotions do. These songs are alive and they have feelings too. Sunny Day Real State captured the total spectrum of human emotions and carefully painted them with music and lyrics. Diary‘s sound was captivating because it was absolutely authentic. The feelings on it were absolutely real. Sunny Day Estate were positively honest. Diary is such a moving record because of how intimately composed it was.

Songcraft is the most important thing about Diary. It’s about how deliberate and thought-out every note of every song is. It’s about applying a harmonious method to emo madness. It’s about painting very beautiful pictures from very unattractive aesthetics. It’s about taking modern conventions, popular problems, and internalized sorrow to invent unheard sonic lands of emotional authenticity and a sense of healing through guitar acrobatics. It’s about taking self-defeat and exposing it as a lie. It’s about revealing beauty in every awful feeling.

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Goo Is You Essential Albums #2: Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly

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We could be from the same mother
You know maybe we are brothers
I don’t think that he said anything although it was obviously said
And strongly and wise

Moss Icon rule. Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly is a phenomenal record. It’s an intensely mysterious one too. Frontman Jonathan Vance can rage like hardcore DC’s finest, only when this guy spits fury, it’s deeply conflicted and emotionally perplexing. This isn’t your standard everyday sadness and depression over punk aesthetics. Moss Icon explode inside of a uniquely molded world they’ve created and it belongs to them alone. Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly is all emo acrobatics and lyrical mayhem. It’s fucking powerful in all the right abstract ways. Moss Icon sing about literally everything. They’re one of the genre’s undisputed best. Moss Icon as the quintessentially emotional postmodernists. These are songs that writhe, squirm, yelp, fume, and change people. Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly is cryptic poetics over emo soundscapes. It’s about being vexed by a puzzle eternal. In the world of Moss Icon, every single thing is both vexing and puzzling. Nothing makes sense and everything sucks.

This is an emo band that have been compelled by some unseen force to commit fits of confused anger in sonic perpetuity. Vance is screaming out for a purpose, he sounds equal parts vulnerable and dangerous. He demonstrates a secretive depression through exclusively arcane projections. This band sounds like they’re afraid. This band sounds like they’re very pissed off. They are intensely authentic on both fronts. On Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly, Moss Icon sound flummoxed and they sound like a band desperately trying to escape from everything and everyone. Moss Icon lash out in all directions. No philosophy, psychology, figure or ideal is safe from their hyper-emotional wrath. Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly is about letting phantom punches fly.

Annapolis, Maryland might not seem that far from DC to most of us but sometimes it’s the smallest distances that provide the most crucial distinctions. Rather than simply singing like a Rites of Spring rip-off group, Moss Icon propel the kind of woofs and shouts that would make Guy Picciotto run for safety. The songs often fall apart in caustic fits only to reshape themselves into deeply meditative and emotional ruminations. The guitar work is on-fucking-point, perhaps the most inspiring facet of the record is the musicianship. It’s an approachable emo album that makes you want to go out and either see a show or put one on. Sure, it is one of the more lyrically challenging emo LPs out there, but for me anyway, it’s a musical inspiration. I wish all records sounded like this, treading that gorgeous line between lo-fi crunch and high wire dynamics. Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly is an album that I can listen to anywhere and at anytime. If Jonathan Vance’s lyrics get too overwhelming, if my mental state is not fully available to ingest his decidedly intense flavor of emo wordsmanship, I can lock directly into the music and be equally captured by the emo acrobatics Moss Icon were so fucking good at. Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly is a dazzling masterwork. It’s a magnum opus of ferocity and sensitivity. It’s a deeply affecting LP. It moves me, impacts me, and thrills me. It absolutely devours me.

Fuck yes.

Mirror is a flawless opener. I mean, wow, every track is flawless in their own way. I’m Back Sleeping or Fucking or Something is a ricochet emo banger with an emphasis on guitar and bass crunch. The slow burn of the eleven minute long, emotionally epic title track broods with problematic iconography, spiritual misgivings, and existential dilemmas. Happy (Unbounded Glory) is Moss Icon unrestrained in sonic emo oblivion with beautifully composed guitar arrangements heightening the abstract impact of Vance’s vocals. Kick The Can is probably the crown jewel of postmodern punk music. It’s a goldmine of emo guitar and bass perfection—a musically captivating track for Vance to perform a wonderfully defeating panic attack on.

Why is emo music like this so powerful to me? Why are albums like Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly or Rites Of Spring so goddamned tragically divine and spiritually essential to people like me? Albums like Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly sound uncannily as if they were mined from the more upsetting parts of my own body. Bands like Moss Icon feel like I was actually in them. As if I were some sort of unofficial invisible member. Bands like Moss Icon operate as the triumphant mascots of my near-constant depression. Emo music means so much to people like me because it’s OURS. There’s an unspoken and affectionate ownership here. The devotees of the emo/hardcore genre are both fiercely loyal and incredibly defensive. I’ll fight for Moss Icon as if they were my own brothers. I’ll fight to the death for Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly.

Neither the band Moss Icon or the album Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly ever really got the recognition they truly deserved. Only recently has the album been lauded in the same breath as its classic contemporaries like Rites Of Spring, In On The Kill Taker, Diary, Do You Know Who You Are?, and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. This is not a sleight against any of those albums, they’re a handful of my favorites (and I’m sure you’ll see most of them as the subjects of future Goo Is You Essentials). My point is that while albums like Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary and Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy have always been acknowledged as monuments of the emo genre, Moss Icon’s Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly has never experienced that kind of universal esteem. It’s almost fixed in place as an insider-classic. This is partly invigorating and party tragic. It’s invigorating to have an underappreciated album be this great in order to soothe the kind of subtle elitism all die hard music lovers find stimulating (even if we hate to admit that) but it’s mostly tragic because of the magnitude of people who haven’t heard it as a result of it being talked about so little. There are hordes of folks who’ve never been exposed to Moss Icon and I fucking hate that!!! I think of how much this band has affected me and made me appreciate and think about so many things through the sonic language of emo music. It’s kind of depressing to think about all the people who don’t even know how much they NEED Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly without realizing it. They’re starving for something specific, tender, and authentic. A lot of people are pretty sick with grief. Moss Icon are the white-hot cure.

Within the first fifteen seconds of Mirror you know you’re listening to a classic record. A track to get you plucking an imaginary bass as you run around your living room like an overemotional clown. When Vance’s passionate shouts cut in after his nervous mumbling and anxious vocal delivery, you’re fucking raging up a storm.

Locket belongs in a half-pipe. It belongs to the doped-up and idealistic youth. It belongs to the chosen ones. It belongs to the survivors. It belongs to pissed off Proust readers. It belongs to me.

As Afterwards The Words Still Ring switches back and forth between anxious emo aesthetics and proto folk-punk anthemics. It’s all ugly beauty and beautiful ugliness. Cricketty Rise (Haverton Roads Browns And Greens) pairs nicely with a skateboard and an empty moonlit street. It’s a deeply contemplative rush of pure emo. It’s a track that’s perfectly at home in the earbuds of some fatalistic young skater while he half-ruminates, half-daydreams. It’s all vertical motion though. Like Locket, Cricketty Rise is a song for punk rock romantics and idealistically beautiful cynics. Locket and Cricketty Rise is pure emo sonic poetry. It’s emo you can skate to, dance to, and lose yourself in. If you want.

Far from a biblical golden calf or other untrue idols, Moss Icon are authentics.

They’re legends. Recognized or not.

Goo Is You Essential Albums #1: Nothing Feels Good

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Nothing feels good like you in red and blue jeans
And your white and night things

Nothing Feels Good is one of my all-time favorite albums. It is beyond perfect. Great emo music is predicated on nervousness and anxiety. Nothing Feels Good is intimately relatable, while remaining partly unidentifiable. It’s lyrically abstract in a highly personal way. Promise Ring leader Davey von Bohlen simultaneously gives us everything and nothing with his words and music. Nothing Feels Good is an album where every single song sounds exactly as if it was ripped from my own life. The relatability is positively uncanny. When I listen to a track like Red & Blue Jeans, I find myself closer to music than I’ve ever felt before. Even though the song is lyrically non-specific, von Bohlen sings just enough correctly placed words to conjure a very deep and precise emotional reaction from me.

It’s a song with only one line of lyrics: “Nothing feels good like you in red and blue jeans and your white and night things.” These are the most eternal, most emotionally resonating lyrics to me in all of rock music. With only a handful of words carefully inserted into a song that’s barely three minutes in length, I’m completely transported and captured. Those words express so much so much to me that I honestly lose myself in them completely. I lock into a very personal and emotional mediation. Just from that single sentence you can derive that von Bohlen knows this person intimately. It’s implied that he knows her inside and out, day and day out. He knows her in her day and night-wear. He knows what she feels like when she’s awake and what she feels like when she’s in bed with him. He also knows that nothing will ever feel good like that again. Nothing will ever feel as good as her and the clothes she wears when he thinks about her. Nothing will ever feel as good as the image in his mind of her. Nothing will ever bring those moments back. The images and the colors are there, she’s not. This is what he’s left with to think about. She’s absent. She’s gone. But the colors and the way those colors felt are seared deep inside of him.

Nothing Feels Good is an azure emo masterwork. The album sounds the way its cover looks. It’s not atmospheric in any conventional way but a world is being built here. It sounds the same way every day of your twenties feels. The album’s not epic or conceptual or whatever, but the songs inhabit a very unique and clearly defined universe. There is a nostalgic precipice, but it’s a ledge The Promise Ring are too dignified for. Rather this is a record that seizes a more poetically symbolist color palette. While the sonic landscape is steeped in aural colors that are surely primary, The Promise Ring use them not only for classicist pop motifs but these reds, blues, and greens also paint a very anxious picture of twenty-something year old iconography. The Promise Ring use sonic orange to express enthusiasm and sonic yellow to convey a lonely and sentimental hunger. Von Bohlen achieves this sound of purely vivid color in many ways, be it musically, thematically, atmospherically or lyrically. Red & blue jeans–white and night things.

Sonic greens to demonstrate a nervous maturity and tonal reds to articulate perpetually anxious desires. Sonic blues take heartbreaking shapes, revealing the most tender, aching sadness I have ever felt from emo music. Nothing Feels Good takes a used set of watercolors to depict a modern pop-art perfection. This is emo music’s Mona Lisa. In emo’s rendering of Da Vinci’s woman, she wears Magritte’s bowler derby, a pair of red & blue jeans, and her smile is the all the more abstracted by a lifetime of unfulfilled promises. Nothing feels good to her but that’s not entirely unexpected. For The Promise Ring, nothing feels good to them because that’s simply what personal and physical growth does to people. Nothing Feels Good is about realizing that you’re getting older, kind of lonelier, and suddenly being full of a wanting desire to just feel good about something again. Everything just…..doesn’t feel good at all. There are reasons, of course, there’s relationships going south and the realization that you’re never going to have the things you’ve always wanted. These are teenage anxieties transitioning into adult problems.

The Promise Ring were given life by Davy von Bohlen’s previous band, the emo juggernauts Cap’n Jazz. I fucking loved Cap’n Jazz. Their version of A-ha’s Take On Me is the most goddamn FUN emo song ever recorded. It’s a pure rush of awesome joy—makes me go WOOOOO! The most fruitful results of Cap’n Jazz, other than the plethora of bands that claim them as a primary influence, were the offshoots The Promise Ring and the Mike Kinsella led American Football. Just two years after Nothing Feels Good would reshape the emo landscape of 1997, Kinsella would reach the same heights of esteem with the self-titled American Football debut LP in 1999. Where American Football would pursue emo instrumental aesthetics to their logical math-y ends, The Promise Ring devoted themselves to mining a more pop-centric soundscape out of traditional emo anthemics. I find that if you take Nothing Feels Good in one hand, with American Football in the other—if you then squash them together—SPLAT–you get something not unlike a Cap’n Jazz sounding record. It’s interesting to hear exactly where each integral part of Cap’n Jazz’s unique style came from. Nothing Feels Good expands on the poppier, more punk-friendly sonic elements established first by Cap’n Jazz and they make some brilliant additions to them, all while eloquently planting the seeds of a musical language all their own. One of primary colors and complicated, chromatic dilemmas.

I’m going to be honest with my readers. I’m actually going through a pretty significant breakup right now. It’s the anti-climactic end to a seven year engagement. It is certainly the end of an era. So. This album is more important to me right now than it’s ever been before. Nothing Feels Good might actually mean more to at this moment than any other album has ever meant to me in all my life. Only really great emo music can get you to gush in such oversentimentality over a record. But I’m being with real with you. I’m fucking sad. But I’m also a fucking adult. I’m twenty seven years old. Heartache is hitting me differently now. I don’t remember it feeling like this before. It’s not as intense as it was when I was a teenager. It’s somehow an unfeeling feeling not to be mistaken for numbness. The images of her definitely hurt. They are absolutely very specific images, conjuring up a very precise and fixed sadness. They bring about a lonely confusion more than anything else. There’s certain moments that feel like they’re killing me but they’re all from a long time ago. I cant stop thinking about those polaroid-like moments.

Like every other milestone of my adult life, the most significant breakup I have ever experienced feels anticlimactic, as if I’ve misplaced something incredibly vital from my youth that enabled me to process bad feelings in a healthy way. Growing up is just, I don’t know, like that I guess. It’s full of misses and realizing that nothing is ever as important as it seems. Nothing ever feels as good as it should no matter how much poetry you force into it. The truth of adulthood is that nothing feels good period. But it’s not as if life then becomes an endless series of depressive motifs. The Promise Ring are not really a depressing band. They use their music to make the most out of bad feelings. Feelings that don’t go away. Feelings that should have disappeared along with acne, long teary-eyed phone calls with first crushes, and all those other staples of the high school experience. Nothing Feels Good is about teenage feelings and how poorly they adapt into adult ones.

At its core Nothing Feels Good is really about being unsure about everything there is to be unsure about. The album’s title track is symbolist take on modern depression. But let me stress the absolutely crucial point that the LP is never outright depressing. Maybe von Bohlen’s immediate and constant relatability is where the magic lives. He’s singing about awful feelings but the music and the emotions he provokes in his listener are never awful in turn. It actually inspires that uniquely teenage feeling of blind affection for a band that absolutely seems to get where you’re at emotionally. Pink Chimneys is dynamic enough to be both heartbreaking and motivating at the same time and during the delivery of the same line. Pink Chimneys rouses a myriad of different emotions from all parts of the colorful human spectrum. Pink Chimneys can make you feel both happy and kind of sad, but sad in a regular, tragic, familiar, also ultimately affectionate sense.

The only album that even comes remotely close to this one in terms of sheer relatability is probably There’s Nothing Wrong With Love released by Built To Spill in 1994. Whereas Doug Martsch’s approach was almost hyper-specific and lyrically verbose, von Bohlen takes a very specific image and abstractly chews on it. The Promise Ring boil emotional trauma down to simple mantras. They’re not brooding, they’re ruminating.

Nothing Feels Good is emo mediation by way of pop sensitivity. Every song takes something very particular, always some sort of image, and contemplates the meanings of it openly and with vulnerability. There’s always an emphasis on melody and pop dynamics. The songwriting sensibilities as demonstrated by The Promise Ring seem to suggest that perhaps pop music informs our emotions and that by examining them with that kind of familiar language in mind is the only way von Bohlen can accurately process them and ascertain the worth of a given image frozen in time. Perhaps the album is musically deliberate in that way. Some sort of literalist expression of needing something to feel good the same way a pop song feels good. It’s possible that The Promise Ring are attempting to shower their anxieties and uncertainties in an uplifting sonic format that operates retroactively, making a happy song sad and a sad song happy. These are all tracks about ideas. They’re about smashingly specific ones. The beautiful thing is how abstractly they’re called upon for closure. You get the feeling von Bohlen just won’t stop until he garners some sort of tangible meaning from them and applies that sacred meaning to something else in his life that seems to lack any. He’s trying to better himself by understanding why certain images are so important to him, why they make him feel so many things, and why none of them are good.

Nothing Feels Good collects twelve different and unique images. Each song is like a different color. There’s something incredibly meaningful about each one. In order to derive the full meaning of every color and every image, The Promise Ring zeroes in on its core features and search for something tangible. They’re looking hard for something that makes them understand why they feel this way about a particular image in their minds. The image must have meaning, they’re must be some sort of positive substance there, something you can take away from it, or else why do images like these get frozen-stuck in your head? My images are the same as the Promise Ring’s and I can see the same colors that they do. I search with them. Maybe it’s fruitless but I don’t believe that. There must be something intelligible there. All of these unhappy emotions stem from a handful of unforgettable images. There must be something I forgot, something I missed about them. There must be something to it all.

Perfect album.

Perhaps the most perfect album of all.

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Electro-Shock Psychedelia: Gimme Gimme Mars Volta

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I am a landmine, I am a landmine

So don’t just step on me, so don’t just step on me

Cause I’m a landmine, cause I’m a landmine
And I can blossom in the petals of an ECT

That’s when I disconnect from you
That’s when I disconnect, disconnect from–

I have listened to Noctourniquet over one hundred times. It makes me feel like a bright neon punk classicist.

I absolutely love that record. Noctourniquet is shamelessly Herculean in character and wildly ambitious in sonic form. It’s a perfect LP. When I think of Noctourniquet, I think in free-form science-fiction anarchy. I think in swirls of cosmic color and acid particles of astral light.

Noctourniquet explodes inside my brain like an asteroid of heavenly sonic beams–sound and color beautifully developed like some sort of time traveling polaroid. Every song is unearthly and it’s a thematically enigmatic, inspirational, and intelligently abstract magnum opus. Tracks like The Malkin Jewel see vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala expertly channeling a neon-clad Nick Cave, propelling the number into a technicolor galaxy of anxiety and planetary paradigm shifts. The Malkin Jewel is easily one of the best rock songs of the 2010s. It’s exquisitely composed and magnificently recorded by guitarist/primary visionary Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. It’s got misdirection, it’s got tropes, it’s got tenderness and passion, anger and a banger chorus. Most of all, it’s got a meaning so mysterious it’s next to impossible to unravel it and yet it’s somehow still so utterly relatable on a super personal level. The Malkin Jewel is ultimately transcendental.

marsvoltaIt’s that first track though. That’s the one that completely captures me. It’s called The Whip Hand and it’s basically, like, my raison d’être (the hyperbole’s not gonna stop anytime soon, folks!). It might sound like an embellishment of sorts but The Whip Hand speaks to me in the most perfectly furious sonic language I have ever heard. It’s as if I was made for this very specific and demanding musical vocabulary. It communicates to me directly without any sort of interference or latency because this song and I are on the same sonic wavelength. The Whip Hand sounds as if it was born inside of my guts. It’s how I wish all music was. It’s like The Mars Volta ripped the crunching synths straight from my spine. Good glorious God, I fucking LOVE the way those chomping, CRUNCHING, hungry synthesizers sound. If those things were the last I ever heard, I might not even be that upset with deafness. Noctourniquet opens with one of the most surreally perfect songs I have ever heard. I am completely obsessed with The Whip Hand. Consider me captured by it.

Second track Aegis is kind of reminiscent of the classic, crowd-pleasing Mars Volta punch-out Intertiatic ESP but Aegis actually surpasses it in every conceivable way. The closer Zed And Two Naughts is second only to The Whip Hand in total perfection and is sonically very similar to it. It’s a bookended wonderland of captivating soundscapes. Zed And Two Naughts is ridiculously fucking good. You can catch me screaming “St. Christopher” on the regular still. It’s a closing track that smolders in a serene, fundamentally outlandish hemisphere of bright flashing neon on a star-roving sonic slipstream. It’s a structural wonder.

Lapochka is sing-along science-fiction bliss. It’s a melody like this one that enchants me so much about the record. Molochwalker is all high-wire punk anthemics laced with sinister hidden lyrical and musical concepts. Trinkets Pale of Moon is a gorgeous song that spirits its listener away to planets unknown, to countries undiscovered, to a dystopic soundscape after some sort of pulverizing cosmic flood. There’s no more muscular and sincere emotional plea in modern rock music than the one found in Vedamalady. This track will break your heart.

Dyslexicon is funhouse schizophrenia. A ghostly call-and-response choral arrangement gives way to to a frenetic implosion of vocal anxiety and electric guitar acrobatics. The album’s title track paints a portrait of sacred inevitability in the face of a galactic uncertainty. In Absentia is all experimental mayhem and steadfast sci-fi marvel. It’s the noisiest, crunchiest track and it’s a challenging piece of many faces wearing several different masks. There are Venetian masks as well as those worn by plague doctors here. Sonically, this track delivers its own sonic universe. In Absentia is an electronica-rock space odyssey all on its own.

Noctorurnequet is a picaresque masterwork. Structurally and emotionally, the album is equal parts Federico Fellini’s neon surrealism and Andrei Tarkovsky’s chromatic depression. It’s all science-fiction affection and endless nocturnal paradise. It’s a multicolor, multi-faceted scary rainbow of sound. Noctourniquet, one of the very best of the last decade, is an LP that changes people. An essential rock record.

The fact that The Mars Volta were brave enough to give us free-associative and cynically new-age/anarchic excursions like these makes me feel like I’m listening to acid-drenched screams from some distant stark raving mad future:

When you walk the plank, tell me what you see
Moloch in the time of mutiny

What’s that satchel of numbers doing?
Can’t my fingers tell extinction?

We’re primarily and almost exclusively talking about the unreal creative chemistry of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. These guys have been making music together longer than most people have known each other. It’s become one of the most fruitful friendships/collaborative partnerships in recent history. These two fucking know each other inside and out. The most painfully and astonishingly evident thing about At The Drive-In, The Mars Volta, and Antemasque is the alien bond that exists between vocalist and guitarist–something proudly showcased in each individual outfit. Every LP captures a preternatural and spine-chilling relationship–expounded, transformed, and pushed to its phantom limits.

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The Bixler-Zavala/Rodriguez-Lopez institution is just as otherworldly a musical convergence as Lennon/McCartney were for a different era. Bixler-Zavala/Rodriguez-Lopez on the same artistic level as a Simon/Garfunkel or a Jagger/Richards. These two were cosmically predestined to make music together. Somewhere, somehow stars aligned and planets moved as one in order to make these two come together. I can’t help but romanticize these kinds of creative marriages. I think they’re really special and actually cosmically relevant. I believe in a fundamentally supernatural element in pop music and Bixler-Zavala/Rodriguez-Lopez express those feelings perfectly.

I don’t know, I ingested quite a lot of acid in my early twenties. Maybe that explains a lot.

The ultimate culmination of their collaborative genius will always be Relationship of Command. Noctournequet, In/Casino/Out, and Frances The Mute are also flawless, immaculate albums that secure these two visionary mammoths as rock and roll masterminds without challengers.

Cedric Bixler-Zavala always was and always will be one of my favorite vocalists ever. Hell, when I was thirteen-years-old it was my job to christen the family dog with a name. I called him Cedric. He was a good dog. He got mauled by a pit bull when I was nineteen. I still remember the little guy dead and stiff in the bathtub waiting to be buried. I thought of Inertiatic ESP. I had to listen to it. LOUD.

Inertiatic ESP is actually the first song I ever heard by Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Once again, I was thirteen and it was 2003 and De-Loused in the Comatorium had just been released. I remember seeing these dudes in some magazine feature spread somewhere like Alternative Press or Spin or something to that effect and was startlingly, completely intrigued by the interview. I thought I just HAD to hear what this was all about. I had missed the original At The Drive-In train just by a few years. As I’ve covered in this website’s recent history Relationship Of Command and In/Casino/Out would eventually come to mean the world to me as a music lover but that all happens later. In the year 2000 when At The Drive-In’s milestone of grammar was unleashed on the genre, I was only ten-years-old–far too young to grasp ANYTHING about what made the record so important and incredible. At The Drive-In would hunt me down eventually though and the rest is sonic fucking history.

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I remember oh-so-clearly the moment Bixler-Zavala’s voice emerged on Son et lumiere. I will never forget the total RUSH of Inertiatic ESP cutting into the track. It took complete control of my young, starving-eyed world. I believe I was changed right then and there. This guy was my very own Robert Plant, and this guitar player–was he even fucking HUMAN? What in the fucking hell was this shit? I was perplexed, infatuated, and hooked. I must have listened to that album thousands of times that year alone. I remember sitting in the gym with these stupid shitty headphones with my cheap-ass walkman on ‘hold’ so I could sit uninterrupted while The Mars Volta transported me to place far, far away from there. De-Loused in the Comatorium was essential to my early teenage years. I positively would not be where I am right now without it.

The band’s next offering was Frances The Mute in 2005 and I love that record. The group’s best is easily Noctourniquet by a country mile but Frances The Mute will always be second in my heart. It’s a pure blast. It showcases The Mars Volta at their most emotionally anxious and experimentally sound. The album’s origins lay in a creepy found diary and Rodriguez-Lopez’s unhealthy collection of TV sets. It has to do with two young musical geniuses staring at a wall of poorly stacked television monitors and seeing a wild-eyed and surreal future buried in static.

Frances The Mute put its best foot forward with The Widow as the album’s lead single. R-409491-1321805472.jpegThat goddamn song, man, is so unbelievable I never tire of it. It’s incredible and perfect and ohmygosh–this song rules. The freaking video was even rotated kindly on MTV during the channel’s final days of relevance. I remember actually seeing it on television multiple times and just being awestruck by the complete fucking majesty of the song. The crown jewel of the LP though is L’Via L’Viaquez, a track that fully captures everything I love about experimental noisy rock music. It’s a track that brings together everything about The Mars Volta that made them great and different–it’s a mushroom cloud of indescribably designed sounds. L’Via L’Viaquez is a cross-cultural free-form pop-crunch symphony of surrealist color. L’Via L’Viaquez is good. L’Via L’Viaquez is life. Viva L’Via L’Viaquez!

I have to take a time-out to discuss just how punk rock it was (for very awful reasons) to listen to music like this in extremely white subcultures. I vividly remember being given stankface from many of my peers for adoring an album that’s half in Spanish like Frances The Mute. People were perturbed by my love for The Mars Volta. It was an odd thing, it wasn’t simply that I was listening to psychedelia I couldn’t decipher that was bothering my friends, it was also somehow the fact that it was Latin based that repelled them as well. This was experienced up north in Vermont, a place so white and Jewish that it’s kind of extraordinary in that way. I’m not exaggerating at all when I tell you there were absolutely no Spanish kids in my entire high school, which at one point in my life felt so large to me now fits squarely in my mind as unequivocally infinitesimal.

When I was 16, my family relocated to Florida and that’s where I was formally introduced by a more cultured punk and hardcore scene to Relatonship of Command. Later during my crazy heroin bender in a dilapidated Miami punkhouse, the only commonality between all of us junkies was our absolute disregard for the future and our total, undying love for Relationship of Command. The punkhouse was primarily populated by Cuban-American anarchists and the like. They even translated certain Mars Volta lyrics for me in a doped-up stupor. I can still recall parts of that bizarre period in my life fondly. I hope I never regret it entirely. Those late-night Relationship of Command listening sessions are seared into my mind as good things, even if we were hardly conscious and barely there at all. We were cardboard cut-outs making human noises but we were responsive nonetheless.

The Mars Volta aren’t without mis-steps and failures. I consider their third LP Amputechture to be a near-total misfire and I really don’t think Octahedron is that much better. These records are diseased with cliches and lack any sort of self-awareness. These aren’t even creative failures that are still interesting to listen to for cautionary purposes, they’re just boring ones–half-hearted and insubstantial. It’s saddening but, at the same time, it is kind of comforting to know that even rock Gods like Cedric and Omar step in dog shit sometimes.

Sandwiched between those two blemishes on an otherwise outstanding track record is The Bedlam in Goliath, the band’s most commercially successful record debuting at #3 on the Billboard 200. Craaazy ouija boards, ramshackle curio shops, and a mystically mind-altering trip to Jerusalem brought this one to fruition. For the most part, the record is very good. It works and it’s got a good inventive spirit as well as some strong examples of atmosphere building guitar techniques. I enjoy it for what it is and I think it succeeds where it tries to more than it falls short. I also think occasional guitar player John Frusciante really pulls through for them this time around. There was an excellent harmony between all the different band members during The Bedlam in Goliath sessions and that really shines through on the LP itself.

Progressive rock music is a very derisive genre. Die-hard fans of it seem to be perpetually splintered off into distinctly disdainful, contemptuous camps. A large part of what makes up progressive rock’s fanbase are musicians themselves and musicians, especially the always expanding number of failed ones, are quite a scornful and bitter lot. They think that since they didn’t end up as God’s gift to radio, that rock criticism belongs to them somehow simply because they know how to play and read music. That’s bullshit. That’s ego-fucked bullshit. I myself know how to write words down on scratch paper, am I a book reviewer for The New Yorker now? Fuck off, you pretentious anti-thought douchebags. My tirade makes sense when you consider the disproportionate amount of backlash The Mars Volta seemed to receive from every direction no matter what they did. Either publications that never appreciated progressive guitar music like Pitchfork would shit all over them for reasons unknown (or at the very least for poorly articulated ones) or the sneering would come from the crybaby prog-rock armies of spoiled, disaffected music listeners themselves. Neither party provided even passable talking points. The Mars Volta were a legendary band in spite of never receiving proper recognition and hardly any amount of steady praise during their career.

Noctourniquet wraps up the Mars Volta’s catalog. I couldn’t begin to fathom a more powerful, more perfectly composed final bow. It’s a keyboard driven masterpiece that features what I view as Rodriguez-Lopez’s most daring and everlasting compositions to date. These last songs from the band are beautiful articles of rock and roll trapped in precious amber.

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It’s a album partly influenced by the tragic Greek myth of Hyacinth. All he wanted to do was impress the beautiful man he was infatuated with and Zephyrus (God of the West Wind) killed him for it out of jealousy during an innocent game of discus. The tragedy struck at a vulnerable moment where Hyacinth was trying desperately to win his affection’s favor with a difficult catch. Zephyrus altered the direction of the wind and made it so the discus struck the youth dead. Apollo refused to allow Hades to claim the young boy’s body, opting to provide a flower instead. He gave it the boy’s namesake and he crafted it entirely from the youth’s blood. Its petals were said to be stained with grief by the tears of Apollo himself. Calling back to The Whip HandNoctourniquet‘s flawless opening crunch, and the hauntingly delivered lyric And I can blossom in the petals of an ECT are not only eternal, they’re magical and they’re devastating. The song is sung from a guilted perspective and it’s full of psychedelic loss. The Whip Hand is all modern Apollo and he’s positively enraged. Cedric Bixler-Zavala as an escaped electro-shock punk idol.

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“It’s about embracing life for what it should be. There’s a view of the elitist lifestyle – that being an artist is unattainable. I’m trying to write this story that reminds people that we’re all artists.” – Cedric Bixler-Zavala on the overall concept of Notournequet

Noctourniquet asks you to journey with it to unknown realms of colorful sounds. It wants to reinforce in you your worth as a crucial creative part of the artistic process. It wants to take care of you and make you feel inspired. It wants you to know you’re not alone out there. Noctourniquet is on the same unfolding cosmic voyage as you.

Come on. Jump in. You can drive.

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Review of At The Drive-In’s ‘in•ter a•li•a’ (2017)

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9/10

I don’t know about you but I needed a good kick in the teeth.

I’ve written a lot of words about these guys lately and I’m not even close to done. At The Drive-In changed my life with Relationship of Command many, many years ago and I am entirely in their sonic debt. I’ve been anticipating something like in•ter a•li•a to come along for as long as I can seem to remember. The fact that it’s here doesn’t really feel real. in•ter a•li•a is upon me and I’m freaking the fuck out.

Many publications have already given in•ter a•li•a a half-hearted review. These lackluster hit-pieces seem to be exclusively written by self-inflated ex-fans who seem to be embarrassed by the fact that they’re reviewing a post-hardcore album in the year 2017. So-called ‘reviewers’ like that like to take cheap shots and preemptively stick their superstank noses up at albums like this. You know, the ones that transport them back to a time when they weren’t so fucking cool. To a time of perpetual anxiety. They’ve forgotten how to build a relationship with At The Drive-In because they refuse to speak its nervous, angry language. These writers are too afraid of being too moved by punk music.

I’m not. I’m all about that shit. Let’s get on with the panic attack. Let’s explore in•ter a•li•a.

The album kicks off with No Wolf Like The Present and I’m immediately back in the caustic, anxious universe of Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s hyper-articulate punk-gospel. The mad-spitting genius is immediate, as Bixler-Zavala wastes no time kicking us in the teeth with the high-wire, high-octane free-associative lyrics At The Drive-In were known for. Whether he’s yelling about walking ciphers kicking calendars or Potemkin mills, Bixler-Zavala delivers a powerful vocal track complete with the haunting refrain of “There’s no wolf like the present. They own your history and scrap it for parts.” This is easily the most philosophically viable and psychologically uncomfortable statement made in punk music in recent memory. It’s lyrics like that, man, they cut my fucking brain in half. Usually it’s Bixler-Zavala’s voice or Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s guitar acrobatics that melt my face off, here it’s this insane lyric. It all goes with my theory of postmodernism in post-dash-genres. Bixler-Zavala is saying that we own nothing, not even our past. He’s also saying there’s nothing we can do about it because the thief is the present itself. You are always a hostage to the things you’ve experienced. The wolf of the present is is a spiritual time terrorist. We are constantly being redefined conceptually and therefore emotionally totally. This wolf sells our better pieces in order to buy more parts to trade. Something like a heroin addiction, common in Bixler-Zavala’s lyrical portraits, could most certainly be a relatable chunk of stolen property, its consequences forever dangling over your head. It’s a psychological relationship of command. Yeah, all of that is expressed in only two lines of lyrics. in•ter a•li•a is one powerful magnum opus and it’s just getting started.

Continuum follows and it’s a fucking banger of a track. This is the logical extension of the now long-dead post-hardcore movement that At The Drive-In championed, pioneered, and abandoned 17 years ago. Continuum demonstrates what the next step in evolution would have been. This song is out of this world rockin’. Tilting At The Univendor casts a loving spotlight on Rodriguez-Lopez and his uncanny guitar abilities. I love the way Rodriguez-Lopez approaches guitar sonics. He faces punk sensitivity with hardcore sensibilities. He’s one of the most inventive players in the genre and his absolute cosmic mastery is on full display all throughout in•ter a•li•a.

Every single fucking track makes me fall in love with the electric guitar.

This LP is a soundscape of skill, hinging on six-string gymnastics. Rodriguez-Lopez gives us a wonderland of sonic guitar structure and he maintains this unearthly atmosphere for the entire album. He’s always reinventing sonic concepts he helped create. Throughout the course of in•ter a•li•a, Rodriguez-Lopez reconfigures post-hardcore guitar dynamics into something different, something new, and something ingenious. It’s an imaginative reconstruction of familiar sonic landscapes. All in all, between Bixler-Zavala shredding his vocal chords through panic attack after panic attack and Rodriguez-Lopez redefining post-hardcore guitar noise, I’m deeply inspired and have already become very affectionate towards in•ter a•li•a.

Far be it from in•ter a•li•a to miss a single beat, the album then catapults into one of the best parts of the album, Governed By Contagions as followed by a one-two punch-out of Pendulum in a Peasant Dress and Incurably Innocent. If you’re not on the floor by the end of these tracks, I don’t wanna know you. You have no heart. There’s a lyric off Governed By Contagions that, for reasons unknown to me, scares me to the bone. It’s a mixture of the delivery of the lines, the actual nightmares I associate with their meaning, and Bixler-Zavala sounding vulnerable for a moment, and ridiculously anxious, on the verge of a complete, actual nervous breakdown, if only for these few lines. He loses control and the lyrics make me feel very afraid.

He’s the man behind the dresser giving zodiac advice
He says there will come a day to delete everything
Brace yourself, my darling
Brace yourself for a flood
There’s a woman eating her newborn under a tractor’s frame
She says barren are the fields from the nephilim rain
Brace yourself, my darling
Brace yourself for a flood

There they are. Those words and the way they’re screamed breaks my heart and actually terrifies me. Music can move me so much. At The Drive-In have driven me to many emotional places but never like this. It’s the imagery, it’s the vocal track–it’s haunting in a way few punk songs are. It’s the color of the words. So many distressing colors are there. They are damaging and wild.

Bravo.

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Incurably Innocent is an anthemic show-stopper about artistic emasculation. It was one of the first songs released off the record and it’s still just as impactful as it was the day it came out when I played it on repeat all day at the office. Incurably Innocent is a sophisticated hardcore-hymnal about a complicated creative meltdown. It’s yet another captivating/excellent track on an album full of them. On Call Broken Arrow, Bixler-Zavala lets loose. Rodiguez-Lopez and Co. unleash the vocal tiger upon us and his name is fucking Cedric. Until this point it’s not as if he’s been holding back physically, trust me–he’s been putting 100% into this goddamn LP, but he has certainly kept his Mars Volta vocal stylings locked up deep inside of his lungs. So when he goes all out during Call Broken Arrow, it’s truly something to behold. I’m always astonished by the way my man Cedric can belt out a song. Its uncharacteristic inclusion on an At The Drive-In record is a welcome one. I love hearing Cedric sing and Call Broken Arrow gives us one of the album’s catchier songs along with its most challenging vocal track. It’s what I like to call a ‘nice juxtaposition’.

Then we get tracks like Torrentially Cutshaw that open up with the most inventive guitar-work I have heard in a very long time. It’s breezy and immaculate. It’s ineffable and indescribably enchanting. This is a Rodriguz-Lopez produced album and his genius-level guitar ability is only challenged by his prowess behind the booth. in•ter a•li•a is a wonderfully produced LP that glows like blue flame.

Ghost-Tape No. 9 provides the first real breather of the album and it’s the second-to-last track on it. You heard me right. in•ter a•li•a doesn’t break pace until the 10th cut. That’s crazy. It’s an all-out blitz for thirty minutes. At The Drive-In have shown no signs of age and their energy is as high as its ever been. When they do finally slow the tempo down, it’s deliberate and perfectly sequenced. It also does not mean your safe. You’re never safe on this record. Anxiety can take several forms. It will always hunt you down. Modern anxiety never disappears. It merely haunts in wait.

Closer Hostage Stamps was also among the earliest tracks that were released off the album. I kind of wish they saved this for the full, official unveiling. It’s such a muscular, aggressive punk song that I wish I hadn’t heard it until the album came out. It’s great though, it’s got Cedric using that vocal colossus super power he keeps stored away on At The Drive-In records until it’s absolutely necessary to wreak havoc with it. On Hostage Stamps, it’s not only necessary for Cedric to freak the fuck out, it’s an essential part of the sonic fabric of this manic, melodic, and athletic closer.

 in•ter a•li•a is a wonderful LP. Nothing could ever be as phenomenal as Relationship of Command was all those years ago but how could you expect something to actually surpass a masterwork like that? That’s not even what At The Drive-In were attempting here. It’s hard enough just to follow-up an album as perfect at Relationship, let alone eclipse it. in•ter a•li•a wasn’t about all that. I definitely would not even think of comparing this new record to the mythic landmarks of the band’s history. Albums like Relationship of Command and In/Casino/Out are beyond perfect and are absolutely monumental. They are tried and true institutions of sound. None of this makes in•ter a•li•a any less powerful or fantastic than it is though. While Jim Ward is sorely missed and noticeably absent, I refuse to side with the detractors on any level because in•ter a•li•a is an album done right. It’s everything I wanted from an At The Drive-In LP. What we all thought was an impossibility is now a chaotic and beautiful reality. I loved in•ter a•li•a. I loved every part of it.

Every. Part of it.

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Review of Slowdive’s ‘Self-Titled’ (2017)

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10/10

It’s been a long time coming. 22 years actually. Guess what? That’s too fucking long. Slowdive, one of the titans of shoegaze, are back with Self-Titled, and they’re ready to show all of us how it’s done.

Slowdive’s worst enemy has always been time. They are a group that is perpetually late for the party. Albums like Souvlaki and Pygmalion have become the ultimate retrospective classics. When these seminal LPs were originally released, they were viewed unfairly with negativity. Decades later, they have all been glowingly re-evaluated. Slowdive never arrive early enough to give a good, solid first impression. They don’t show up even fashionably late in order to guide a sonic movement through a rough period in its history. Slowdive seem to exclusively make statements of finality. Souvlaki, instead of revitalizing the shoegaze movement, actually ended it entirely. 1995’s haunting-hymnal ambient masterwork, Pygmalion, was a final farewell to the genre as a whole (and ultimately to the band itself). Pygmalion operated as the Touch of Evil for experimental guitar music. Slowdive make caskets, not movements.

Shoegaze is a genre that’s undergone a kind of revival in recent years. What with Slowdive’s own contemporaries like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain releasing admirable material that improved on the style’s once-perceived weaker spots, as well as relative newcomers like Beach House and Deafheaven reinventing some of the genre’s more lucrative sonic elements for the 21st century, I’d say shoegaze has made a very strong comeback. Slowdive’s fatalistic romance with timing makes me nervous. I think this band is cosmically destined to make definitive, but ultimately irrevocable and final statements. I think Slowdive are here to bring this revival to a close. I think they’re here to drop a dream-grenade on this comfortable sonic landscape. I think it’s the end of an era.

Slowdive never seem to garner the respect that they deserve. It all has to do with being out of your time entirely. It has to do with being late to every party you’re invited to, even the reunion circuit. A part of me feels that 2017’s Self-Titled marks the end of a movement, given that the album is just remarkable enough to effectively end the current half-hearted shoegaze resurgence in popular music. It’s as if they saw the shoegaze revival train and thought to themselves… well, that’s gone on for long enough, let’s show them what we’re made of. It’s like they saw that damn shoegaze revival tent and lit it on fire. It’s like it was a game for them. They make mastery sound so easy. Killing is what Slowdive are best at. On Self-Titled, they mined ambient/noise-obsessed shoegaze so brilliantly that they have essentially hollowed out every concept of it into unusable forms. With Self-Titled, they mastered a style into obsoleteness. Self-Titled has killed shoegaze for good because it’s that damn impressive. There’s nowhere to go from here.

Self-Titled absolutely feels like a closing statement. It feels like the last chapter of a life-changing, postmodern opus. It feels like an ending. Weird for an album that marks a long-awaited reunion. Self-Titled, more than ever, feels like the total end of the sonic world.

Self-Titled begins with Slomo and it’s a vibrant, multi-colored starting point for a record that encompasses every possible part of the noisy sonic spectrum. What it brings to mind isn’t the band’s milestone, Souvlaki, but rather what is considered by most to be a misfire, the band’s debut LP Just For A Day. This brand new feels sonically intimate with their very first. I find it fitting that the only piece of music Self-Titled reminds me of is the band’s debut full-length release. Self-Titled takes much its aural grammar from Just For A Day and perfects this particular mode of sound, shaping it into one of the most beautiful sonic languages I have ever heard. Slomo even unearths an uncanny guitar soar reminiscent of When the Sun Hits that seems to add a newly discovered cynical layer to it. This is a track of multiple complexities. Slomo is something worth excavating. It’s a song you’re meant to unravel as it unravels you. Slomo is a pitch-perfect opener.

Then we have Star Roving. This song is just completely incredible. It might be my favorite part of the album. Star Roving is destined to become a shoegaze standard up there with When You Sleep, Just Like Honey, and Vapour Trail. Star Roving takes you on a sonic trip into an infinite silver sea of noise and warmth. This song is why I love experimental guitar pop. This is what dreams should sound like. This is the ultimate culmination of everything Slowdive have ever done. With Star Roving, the group has demonstrated that they are the masters of their genre. Star Roving proves that Slowdive are now entirely without equals. They are in a class of their own. They are the Kings of their corner of pop music. It’s theirs. Star Roving gave them the kingdom.

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After only two songs, it’s clear that this album is classic shoegaze noise. Rather than just a nostalgic trip, it’s far more ethereal and powerful than that. Star Rover is emblematic of all the best aspects of a very particular sound. Star Rover is a minefield of sonic booms and heavenly, soaring guitar particles of silver/gold light. It’s a track that makes me fall in love with guitar music all over again. The way everything is absorbed into this one all-consuming beautiful noise that makes you lose track of yourself and your place in time. The philosophy of Slowdive’s new record is this: we are more perfect the older we get. Take Just For A Day and perfect its youthful ambitions in a more musically articulate and deliberate way and you have Self-Titled. That’s not simply nostalgia, that’s authentic growth. It’s an incredibly mature record about teenage devotion.

Don’t Know Why makes good on the promise of the first two tracks and delivers Rachel Goswell in fever bliss. I absolutely love the guitar arrangement on this song, it’s very captivating and gives a glowing, tender feel. It’s kind of like a pulsating sonic star or slipstream of some kind that deliberately captures its listener away. When Neil comes in to take control of the vocal melody, his string of words ends in a nearly caustic drum thrash accompanied by shining guitar dynamics that Rachel’s voice smothers in her absolute tonal beauty. Don’t Know Why is another show-stopper.

The lead single off the album follows and that’s Sugar For The Pill. It’s probably the record’s most straight-forward cut, weaving in and out of familiar tropes of balladry and atmosphere building guitar tricks. It’s a patient song that plays off its own tempo-dreamt universe. It sucks you in with its sincerity. Sugar For The Pill is one of the more tragic sounding songs on the LP and I find it easily the most heartbreaking number. It’s also got a bass guitar arrangement that will kill your life. It’s beyond words.

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Everyone Knows is another track that I’m bonkers for. It’s a fantastic, incorporeal experience. It’s airy, intelligent, and sonically sacred-feeling. Slowdive know how to put together shoegaze anti-anthems. This is a song that flows like water. This song goes everywhere and becomes everything. It’s headphone perfection. It’s a cleansing rush of pure joy. It’s a dream perfected.

No Longer Making Time is a lesson in shoegaze misdirection. It’s a deconstruction of the quietLOUDquietLOUD scheme that brought the group so much success twenty years ago. No Longer Making Time is a track that runs its structure all the way to its ultimate sonic peak. It’s a deconstructionist take on punk music. Go Get It is by far the most challenging part of Self-Titled. This is a song that requires more deliberate participation from its listener. You have to interact with this song to get the most out of it, this one’s not necessarily going to take you by the hand and guide you through its individual dream. This song is more guarded than the others. This is a track you’ll have to seek out. It’s elusive and secretive. This kind of genius sonic structure is what gives Slowdive such an eternal sound. It’s complexities like these that make sense with time. Go Get It is a song written not for this era but the next one. It’s a future opus.

The closing number comes to us in the form of Falling Ashes, a haunting dystopic soundscape. I have never felt more comforted by the feeling of unease and melancholy. Falling Ashes takes the hyperbolic language of depression and longing to paint a picture of enchanted togetherness. Unlike something like Souvlaki, Slowdive’s Self-Titled ends with complete closure. You walk away from this album feeling like something has been absolutely healed. You walk away feeling complete, completed, and absolute.

Jagged crystalline peaks of eloquent noise. Self-Titled is a labyrinthine sonic wonderland. There are gorgeous oceans of color for you to drown in. There’s so much to cherish about this record. It’s very difficult for me to compare this LP with Slowdive’s previous masterpieces, considering that I still maintain a very intimate relationship with both Souvlaki and Pygmalion. So rather than kill myself by comparison, I’ll simply say that Self-Titled is just as amazing as those two records. I’ll say that it is the long-awaited completion of one of the finest trilogies in noise rock. I’ll say that Self-Titled is a definitive masterwork. I’ll say that Self-Titled is a already part of me.

Self Titled is more than merely phenomenal. I can’t even express how much I love this music. It’s simply impossible for me to do that. This album gave me everything I was ever left wanting from a shoegaze record. It gave me perfect atmospheres of silver and gold and noise. It gave me back my Slowdive.

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Neon Socrates: A Love Letter To LCD Soundsystem

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Call me a classicist. Call me a true believer. Call me neon light. LCD Soundsystem are the ultimate postmodern group. They use the language of dance and renegade minimalism to redefine conceptual ideas in music and art. James Murphy is a songwriter who could make David Byrne blush. He’s a punk rock classicist. He’s a true believer. He’s serious as a heart attack. Irony is part of LCD’s soul-system. James Murphy is the last truly energetic and potent architect of postmodern pop. Like Brian Eno and Steve Reich, like Philip Glass, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, and Suicide, James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem are the closest thing we have to modern philosophers. It’s music like this that crafts cityscapes out of sound.

Postmodern philosophy through popular music is an interesting theme and it’s something that’s been perfected only recently. I find hip hop to be the most accurate expression of postmodern ideas, meaning that I consider it to be the most purely deconstructionist genre there is. When you are making music that is truly a combination/reformation of preexisting songs/sounds, then that is a truly fascinating thing philosophically. Landmarks in postmodern hip hop would include ENDtroducing, Dr. Octagonecologyst, and Madvillainy, all three LPs demonstrate in very specific ways the power of the postmodern musical language of deconstruction.

LCD Soundsystem is a band that changes hearts, minds, and dance-floors. It’s James Murphy’s earnest love of disco music that propels the band’s already stunning musical vocabulary to heights unmatched. By incorporating strong elements of ironic commercialism and accessibility to paint a vulgar picture, Murphy expands the grammar of dance to encompass very abstract and complicated feelings. It’s not a revival, Disco doesn’t factor into LCD’s soundscape to make a comeback. It’s as dead a language as Latin. It’s how fluent Murphy is in this ancient artifact of pop that makes it so impactful and wonderfully unexpected. It’s a dead language spoken with frightening clarity and a spitfire tongue. It’s a dying discourse death-roll and Murphy’s your Emcee, and he’s here to deconstruct your self-concepts. Murphy is a songwriter who intensely understands pop music. He is a yin-yang of pop sensibilities and pop sensitivity, and has mastered the craft of both. LCD is shockingly, even belligerently, meta and sonically heartbreaking. James Murphy is a post-pop depressive using dance as an antidote for modernity.

Murphy is also a punk rock librarian turned misfit Caesar of noise. LCD Soundsystem is avant-garde gold. It is hyper-literate and sardonic music, playfully self-aware of its own genius and psychopathy. Often Murphy’s songs are self-obsessed and sexy, like some Travolta-fixated sonic Magritte. LCD Soundsystem is a band with obvious artistic intention. They make very deliberate choices. Postmodern music, far removed from sonic movements within Dadaism, is an extremely logical medium. In turn, James Murphy is a very methodical genius. He’s got a deadly focus on poetic purpose.

lcdsoundsystemLCD Soundsystem is about anti-hits and non-commentary. When you think a profound point is being made, the joke’s on you, and when you find yourself giggling at Murphy’s self-deprecation, he turns the lyrical blade on his listener. When you think you’re listening to a radio hit, six minutes pass by and you’ve already become a new human being thanks to the power of pop music. That genre that’s supposed to only provide you with feels and vibes, possibly even an ignorable atmosphere, just fucked up your philosophy. Even songs like Drunk Girls are written so cynically that you can’t help but feel that it’s a self-hating hit. LCD Soundsystem make contemporary pop music that is truly of the here and now while sending up the past. It’s the sonic equivalent of the best absurdist plays. Losing My Edge as Endgame. You Wanted A Hit as Waiting For Godot. James Murphy as a dance-crazed Samuel Beckett.

A normal musical exercise for LCD Soundsystem would spell career suicide for any regular outfit, if not for the alacrity they approach such danger zones with. They hurl themselves from sonic cliffs of safety with a smirk and a wave, and an innovative anti-philosophy. Music, culture, and the undying marriage of the two give way to inevitable nostalgia for lands promised. It’s an auto-regenerative magic impossible to thwart, predict, project or prevent. Pop is inescapable by its very definition.

James Murphy not only understands the cosmic significance of music production in the recording studio, he is also keenly aware of its physical demands. He is a showman. An LCD Soundsystem show is a strikingly elegant event. It’s proper performance art that never alienates. It’s performance art that reaches out to be loved and cherished, remembered and mythologized. LCD Soundsystem perform a philosophic self-appraisal and make myths of themselves before you even have the choice/chance to. Before you know it, it’s not James Murphy up there under the disco ball, it’s some tuxedo Zeus and he’s calling you Hercules, his bebop son. He’s commanding you to dance. You pirouette. You spin. You lose control. You forget yourself. You were there. Then you weren’t. You were made new. You were made modern. You were made in LCD Soundsystem’s neon image.

Artifice takes center stage. LCD Soundsystem are equal parts dramaturgy and absurd, existential abandon. These concerts are choreographed to a fault, as evidenced by tireless rehearsal and a multitude of simultaneous anxieties. Over prepared but never overcompensating. James Murphy gives the ultimate live experience with bells and whistles, along with every other popular symbol associated with the best ever nights. There are tender themes of authenticity mixed in with the self-aware posturing of the group. It’s a deliberate juxtaposition that plays on your every chord. Your intelligence is satisfied and your dreams are realized. It’s a foundation based on a silent agreement between performer and audience. It’s as if by mutually acknowledging the contrived circumstance of the moment makes it all the more real. These are deconstructions of pop shows. These are life-changing, very loud spectacles. This is LCD Soundsystem.

The debut self-titled album is an astonishing document. Where the single Losing My Edge can be seen as the blueprint for Murphy’s total vision, the self-titled LP works fittingly as the manifesto. It has a more finalized feel. Enter the new pop-America, christened by a Daft Punk spinning James Murphy. It’s a record sprinkled with hints of nihilism and absurdism, giving large parts of it an existentially carefree persona. I see it as a renegade dossier of dance-punk hymns for the ugly club scene. In other non-sonic distinctions, it is a loving philosophy for unloved people. It’s about symbolic interactionism through pop iconography. It begins with self-reference and expands outward in meta-astral sonic anomaly.

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The Sound of Silver is the masterpiece. It is a landmark record of Brian Eno/Steve Reich channeled peaks. It is utterly, perfectly composed and the most musically astonishing of Murphy’s initial trilogy. This is where he betters his influences and becomes his own Mozart. It’s a brilliant piece. Every track provides us with a geography of Murphy’s theory of silver. It was recorded in a room of silver, painted/covered–everything was the color of silver. This is the character of silver. This is how that specific color feels and sounds. This is how silver dances. Silver is aging in every way, all while retaining its value. Not merely aging physically but artistically. Being outrun but not outdone. Silver is self-reflective. We are self-reflected individuals. We compose personalities based on self-reflection, the reflections of others in the ocean of silver, and we become those reflections. Our personas are made up of reflections, tiny and large. There is no authentic you. There is only the endless, nameless silver.

Murphy’s silver theory posits that there is a danger of the past, in nostalgia, and he demonstrates these pitfalls of thought by deconstructing pop music to the point of aural Babylon. Pop is great medicine until it begins to have real-life implications. Pop music is wonderful until it elicits hard emotions that actually contain the essence of the music’s structure and content. Pop music is untrustworthy because of how powerfully emotional it can make you. It’s great to feel like a teenager until you really emotionally begin to feel like one. Parts melancholic, The Sound of Silver is a mostly hopeful experiment in creation. Creation is life. Create more things to be reflected. Reflections in the silver ocean are inevitable and unstoppable. Partly counterfeit personas based off mirror concepts aren’t in themselves bad. They are philosophically inescapable. So dance into that silver sea and reflect as much as you can to become as large as you feel.

The Sound of Silver is about understanding human relationships with art. It’s about emotional comprehension and honesty. It’s about understanding, whereas the final part of Murphy’s initial trilogy, This Is Happening, was about revelations. Relationships are built and re-evaluated in The Sound of Silver’s sonic textures and tempos. This Is Happening attempts to salvage them, reconstruct them after the nature of pop and silver dynamics broke them down and tore them apart concept by concept, for analysis and self-obsessed self-growth. This Is Happening is LCD Soundsystem’s most emotionally gratifying record. It is also, interestingly enough, their most sonically and lyrically challenging work to date. It is the most philosophically powerful of the three which makes it the most spiritually rewarding pop record I have ever heard.

This Is Happening is sonically complex and philosophically life-altering. When they talk about how music can change people, they’re talking about records like this. They’re talking about This Is Happening. It’s a perfect piece of art. This Is Happening is ineffable beauty. It’s something I regularly visit. It’s something I gawk at. It’s something I unravel and it’s something that unravels me. It forces me to dance and I force it to show itself. We reflect one another’s true purposes. This Is Happening is the most important album in my life. This Is Happening might just be my most loved LP. It’s music and albums like this that drive me bonkers with fever bliss. This Is Happening is my life on vinyl. I’m in love with it. It’s my everything. This Is Happening is my religion.

Shut Up and Play the Hits is the live home video experience to end all of them. It’s Stop Making Sense for people who never had any sense. It’s earnest and full of feels. It captures the very loud ending of LCD Soundsystem’s first outing as a group. The farewell didn’t last forever, which is fine. Murphy is reinventing every aspect of the modern pop idol and a reunion is merely another part of his ongoing experiment. Shut Up and Play the Hits is nearly five hours in length and it is LCD’s first farewell concert filmed live at Madison Square Garden, a boxing ring at the heart of Murphy’s beloved NYC. The show is touching and it resonates deeply to this day regardless of the reunion of the band. It stands as the farewell to an era, the closing of another pop century. There are documents here that show Murphy the day after the show, giving us a pop star we haven’t seen before. One that is essentially all too human. These are intimate vignettes of an untouchable musical genius. Shut Up and Play the Hits is a captivating hit parade of goodbyes.

LCD Soundsystem are a very special and important band for me personally and on every level. They give me exactly what I want/need from music. They give me something I can cherish and adore, defend and mythologize. They give me pop that’s truly mine. They give me the soundtrack to my life. They give me hope and they inspire me. They excite and fascinate me. LCD Soundsystem enchants me. They give me everything and more.

Dance Yrself Clean as a recipe for living. Dance Yrself Clean as the first truly modern pop philosophy. It’s your show. This Is Happening and LCD Soundsystem embrace the most romantic concepts of existentialism, the most cynical nihilist truths, and the most eloquent, life-affirming parts of absurdism in order to create an all new psychology. When the tempo changes, the paradigm shifts.

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One must imagine Sisyphus happy, just as one must conceptualize a contented James Murphy. We must visualize/conceptualize ourselves as art projects and creative exercises, as always works in progress, and as happy. We must imagine ourselves conceptually as clean. We are uncontrollably reflective and multi-faceted because of said infinite self-reflections. Our personas are made up of countless shimmering concepts within the same light show. Like a disco ball, the unofficial logo/mascot of the band itself, we’re like how it sparkles. All of its collected/collective/collectible tiny and fragmented sparkles of light. That’s us. Dance eternal.

We deconstruct ourselves through dance. We are then clean of concept momentarily. Reflecting nothing for an instant and in that instance we are clean. No construct is necessary in a spirit abandoned. Philosophic/Psychic constructs are auto-regenerative and inevitable. Never cleaning ourselves of them every once in a while is habit-forming because silver feels so good. We must religiously dance ourselves clean of silver constructs. We must comprehend futility and dance in spite of it. We are predestined to explode in particles of neon light. We must intellectually, passionately create new concepts and constructs for ourselves from the dance-floor up. We must be the DJs of our own absolution. This is the essence of postmodernism. This is the unique philosophy of LCD Soundsystem. This the psychological make-up of the most interesting pop music in the world.

This is James Murphy as a neon Socrates.

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Fever Bliss: My Relationship of Command

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For my first Goo Is You article, I chose to focus on At The Drive-In’s most perfect record. It is a personal essay. I loved writing this piece and I hope you enjoy reading it.

When I found out what One Armed Scissor was about, I was actually holding one in my hand. I was staying at a punk house in Miami and I had gloriously abandoned my reason. I was counting the days by the track marks and keeping a warped faith with junky iconography. I remember cradling the syringe and thinking about my body, how it had nearly been pushed to its limit, about how it would soon be non-operational. I thought about a near-death philosophy founded on sent transmissions from such a small artifact of punk ethos.

I remember when I first heard this LP. It was revelatory. I was very young. Even then, I understood the free-associative nature of At The Drive-In’s lyrics and I freely associated songs like One Armed Scissor with science fiction tropes. The song has changed entirely for me. The song’s meaning altered/grew the summer I began sending my own transmissions from one armed scissors. I used heroin for a little while and the more I used, the more One Armed Scissor revealed itself to me. It was Miami, it was a punk house/lifestyle/trip, and I was on a mission.

Albums like this grow with you and are auto-regenerative.

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Being a ‘junky’ in Miami and being a punk rocker is an absurd reality that I experienced. It felt exactly like Relationship of Command. I felt I embodied the essence of it. I was a vessel for the newly expanded meanings of every track. Like some no-wave Lazarus relearning the sonic language of emo, I had come full circle. The album became the soundtrack to that period of my life. It’s not a period full of regret or sadness, like one might expect. It was full of anxiety and music. It was a period of earnest crushes and zodiac anarchy. One armed scissors that defied their users.

A one armed scissor is a needle and a sent transmission is the act of taking intravenous drugs. A relationship of command is what happens when you use a one armed scissor regularly and without unhappiness, but overflowing with modern anxieties. A failed transmission is an overdose, but At The Drive-In, Relationship of Command, and One Armed Scissor are not maudlin, cautionary acts. They are as is sonically, lyrically, and generally. If you use hard drugs, you use hard drugs. It may compound certain anxious notions and fears or anger, but it does not define you, realign your morality, nor can your junky status be used to judge or rate your value. It’s just a part of life.

One Armed Scissor is a hyper-intelligent junky anthem, but it’s not a song about that, it’s about anxiety and not being able to rid yourself of that feeling. No matter how many transmissions are sent from as many one armed scissors that you can find, it does not cure nor capture you. It’s about the need to turn away from your timeline. Yet, sonically, the song does move into a more catchy sphere during that astonishing and simple pow-pow chorus. The song changes and the transmission has been sent. Therefore, heroin use does make an impact. It does not make anxiety disappear. It turns a verse to a chorus, and makes your life catchier, easier, but still all the more immediate and onrushing.

One Armed Scissor demonstrates genius levels of aural storytelling. It’s this kind of sonic grammar that makes Relationship of Command the landmark album that it is. Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Co. flex a vast musical and lyrical vocabulary/ability and the group is able to actually use sonic textures, signatures, and structure to propel meaning and expound a fully realized sonic story. The fact that tempos/moods change when a transmission is being sent is astonishing to me. One Armed Scissor is built around verses that sound frayed, fleeting, anxious, falling apart, and almost conveniently despondent, giving way to the anthemic punk rock chorus, abandoning confines of the verse and embracing a hardcore hymnal, truly shattering premise. One Armed Scissor gives us a bridge that courts us romantically and sardonically, but it’s the chorus that reestablishes the song’s ultimately unique sonic story arc.

ben-kaye-at-the-drive-in-14.jpgdsRelationship of Command is the most perfect rock record of the early aughts. Its eternal characteristic is elemental. It is a fiery LP. It scorches, blazes, and burns. It sears. Relationship of Command is philosophically fatalistic. It is a record that steams with postmodern rage. Post-hardcore, by definition, is a deconstructionist style that takes the core concepts of emotional hardcore music and punk rock, then reshapes and realigns them into fiercely modern and strikingly powerful themes. Post prefixed music populates after-the-fact genres and movements in art. This is music for those who missed out. This is what happens when the party’s over. Post-hardcore music is also aggressively ever-happening. It is, for all intents and purposes, postmodern punk rock. Pioneered by groups like Nation of Ulysses, Fugazi and Rites of Spring, and later perfected by others like Refused and At The Drive-In, post-hardcore is immediate no matter how old the record is and how late you’re listening to it by comparison. Records like Relationship of Command, The Shape of Punk to Come and Steady Diet of Nothing have the postmodern benefit of being ageless and adaptive. These are LPs that change according to circumstance.

The most attractive part of At The Drive-In is Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s voice and personality. It is the manic, high-octane quality of his vocals that give At The Drive-In their signature urgency. Bixler-Zavala reinvents the muscular punk rock idol with acrobatic leaps of energy, certainty, and logical purpose. The undying dynamism of his vocals make Relationship of Command the landmark masterwork it is. His voice fucking blows my beautiful world away. It is as if he is equally dedicated to both the detachment and the implosion. He is a believer in sonic inevitability. He is a prophet of vocal expression through rock music. Bixler-Zavala dominated the verbose lyrical structure of a given song, punching it into a post-hardcore, emotionally resonant and new formation. The tracks on Relationship of Command sound like they’re falling apart and that’s because, conceptually, they absolutely are. It’s Bixler-Zavala who operates as the always reliable string, as the guiding light for the listener. If a relationship of command is built by the audience, our strongest connection is made with Bixler-Zavala, and it is he who controls it. It’s a romantic, affectionate association with a lead singer that has become sadly lost to us in this post-pop atmosphere of anti-fame along this anti-rock star landscape of identity crisis music.

Cedric Bixler-Zavala is the last living, all modern punk idol.

Relationship of Command is an album about postmodern anxiety. It’s about what it is to be anxious, about redefining it, and reimagining the concept and application of angst. It’s about the meaning of anxiety in a universe that is perpetually falling apart and reconstructing itself. We live on an abstract plane that is always deconstructing its core tenements. We are a people self-obsessed with self-growth. One of the most popular ways to attain this is by self-reference and self-analysis. Relationship of Command is about being so psychologically reflective, poetically insulated, and politically afraid that self-obsession turns to anxiety, and anxiety to pure rage. This intensely restless philosophy also led guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez to end the group. It’s only fitting that At The Drive-In’s most lethal flaw was also their most compelling sonic element.

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Arcarsenal kicks your teeth in. Pattern Against User trades anthemics with deconstructionist hardcore acrobatics to paint a vulgar picture of anxiety and truth. One Armed Scissor changes lives by way of junky iconography and guitar-sliced, anxious landscapes of sound. Something like Invalid Litter Dept. sounds like the nervous ramblings of some depressive anarcho-cubist, while Mannequin Republic is all classic hardcore pandemic… until it’s not, and then it is again all over. It’s all beauty and it’s all vertical motion. It’s all At The Drive-In and it’s all perfectly captured. It’s all about falling apart sonically and it’s all about caustic redefinitions of musical theory and artistic practice. It’s about being postmodern, while you scream and thrash about.

Given the album’s transient, powerful anatomy, listening to it is an undeniably personal experience. I hear Miami, I hear all of Florida. I hear the heat, the rage, the rain, and the sweltering sun. I hear my voice as Bixler-Zavala’s and I’m yelling about sent transmissions to dead roommates. I’m hurling emotional hardcore paeans at the heart of my galaxy, at the very core of everything that ever shocked me by its suddenness and relentlessness. I’m rebelling against the auto-regenerative make-up of my social self and culture as a whole. I keep reevaluating myself, I keep changing, deconstructing and reforming, that I have no idea what my soul even feels like anymore or whether or not I am even a constant personality aspect or if I’m a hybrid of postmodern tension and non-operational woes.

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That right there is the philosophical bone of the LP. It’s not just that culture changes us so much that we’re unrecognizably angry, we change ourselves, we put our hearts through a methodical, torturous process of reinvention every single moment of every single day. We are constantly adapting and shape-shifting. We are different, forever. We are post-people, part of a post-caricature anti-generation. We are proto-anxiety. Anxiety is our only commonality. Anxiety will never die. And it makes you wanna scream.

Relationship of Command is a gorgeous record of guitar noise. Let’s focus in on Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Jim Ward, and the cosmically relevant sounds they produced. The guitar music on this LP is beyond mind-blowing. It’s inventive, it’s admirably brave, and atmosphere building. Rodriguez-Lopez and Ward carefully, yet brazenly, mold a very specific universe into existence with their six strings, one of full frontal abandon and sonic poetry as heard by eternal youths with damaged eardrums, skinny heroin-chic with pulsating holes in their arms, overanxious and bored, but frightened and mad. It is a guitar driven opus, one that blooms outward with kinetic energy and astral importance/purpose. Paul Hinojos aides this energy by providing wonderfully crafted/handled bass lines that are not only deliberately performed but flexible in character.

It’s a sound atlas. There is a well-coordinated map, connecting each song, enlarging them into a sonic scope of neon rushing splendor. Hyperbole aside, Relationship of Command is unmistakably of its time and place, the here and the now. Not their now, but the ongoing now that is always happening right now in every unfolding, immediate instance, like right now. They faced emo sensibilities with hardcore sensitivity. Offbeat rhythms lay waste to emotional peaks of energy. They’re talking about your veins and using words like ‘intravenous’ to describe their worth.

Something I really should touch on is just how accessible the album is. It’s aggressive, but it’s not a challenging work. It’s relatively easy to digest. Most of the eleven tracks are El Paso brief and perfectly digestible. But it’s this kind of pop art that runs in parallel lines. It’s a multi-faceted piece that works on several levels, all of varying complexity and authenticity. Relationship of Command provides its listener with a portmanteau of influence. It’s an endearing, enduring collection that paints several figures in a divine, important, fatal light. Violent sweat junkies as bearers of the aegis. Junky warrior Homers. Smack tanned gladiators who believe in absolutes. Doped-up would-be Caesars.

Relationship of Command is post-coliseum noise rock.

At The Drive-In are a deadly serious pantheon-satyricon. I don’t only hear Florida and junkies and rage and men/women and politics. I hear ancient Rome. I hear concurrent, infinite timelines. I have been converged. I am kid Caesar. I am emblematic. I am revenge. Relationship of Command is pure post-coliseum. It’s something else entirely. Something intimate and ageless, doomed and mythic. It’s Edith Hamilton with a shaved head raging about sci-fi slumlords and cyclops demagogues. It’s a cathartic release. Relationship of Command is Hercules emasculated. It’s about complete upheaval and reconstruction. It’s about reinventing our timelines. It’s about realigning them to run simultaneously together. It’s about sacking the Roman Empire. It’s about being eaten by Huns. It’s about watching Carthage writhe. Nero has abandoned his fiddle in favor of an electric guitar.

Cedric Bixler-Zavala as some misfit emperor turned screaming punk god.

After the demise of At The Drive-In, the survivors splintered off into two primary camps, the aptly named but underwhelming Sparta and the occasionally brilliant (see Noctourniquet, Frances the Mute, and movements of De-Loused) progressive acid rock fusion that was The Mars Volta. in•ter a•li•a is now upon us and it is a fantastic follow-up seventeen years later to Relationship of Command . It is an excellent record that does its predecessor justice. Like all classics of genre though, in•ter a•li•a could never have been Relationship of Command, not for all of its glory (and it truly is another glorious LP). There is something to be said of the ineffable timing of At The Drive-In’s landmark release. The year 2000 was really something else for concept art-punk, and make no mistake about it, At The Drive-In is purely art-hardcore/art-emo music. They went out of their way to deconstruct every characteristic of the genre they called home and reevaluated its every aspect. They changed post-hardcore because they fully intended to change it. This was not a case of accidental genius on the part of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. It was calculated, careful, and precise. It was something to behold. Rodriguez-Lopez as a cracked, renegade Aurelius, as a hobo Cicero, and as a luminous, acid soaked Pegasus.

At_the_Drive-In_-_In-Casino-Out_coverEven when you give something like Acrobatic Tenement a spin, you are immediately transported to a very unique world. In/Casino/Out is a masterpiece unto itself and might even deserve its own think-piece. In/Casino/Out is truly a phenomenal record, captured in live sessions which add to the overall sense of anxiety and restless energy, the one unifying element found in every At The Drive-In release. Songs like Alpha Centauri can revitalize your life. Others like Napoleon Solo can stop you dead in your tracks. Shorter releases like Vaya provide quick fixes and bridges to future soundscapes. Their catalog is an odyssey of sonic grammar, culminating in Relationship of Command. Only time will tell where in•ter a•li•a will stand, but I have high hopes for the record’s endurance and appeal.

At The Drive-In are about mythologies. They’re about being deliberately immediate, unstoppable like a timeline driven.

They’re about emotional hardcore.

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