Mark Kozelek doesn’t like what I do. This was made abundantly clear somewhere between Universal Themes’ “Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues” and Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood’s “Philadelphia Cop,” in which the song breaks for a strange skit between a “music journalist” and an outdated impression of a teenage girl (both voiced by Kozelek). It’s true; things have gotten pretty weird between Kozelek and in followers since the release of his recent opus, 2014’s Benji. He’s publicly lashed out against music journalists, other artists, and an entire North Carolina audience. Truth be told, he couldn’t give a shit whether or not I “recommend” his new album or not. So why do I continue to be so drawn to it?
Since 2002, Minus the Bear have released a string of fairly consistent, ambitious (if not always successful) albums that navigate the shared ground between math-rock, prog-rock and groove-based dance numbers. Each album tweaked its predecessor’s formula enough to keep the band interesting and listeners on their toes. Even Infinity Overhead, which dropped the band’s penchant for experimentation in favor of a more straightforward, pop-rock hybrid sound, ultimately contained more hits than misses (and a few career highlights). VOIDS is the first album to flip this formula on its head and double down on its misses. Largely built on filler, it leaves listeners somewhere between disappointment and relief that it took the band this long to hit their weak spot.
It’s been one month since Donald Glover (as Childish Gambino) released his third studio LP, ”Awaken, My Love!”, and surely, that’s enough time to have analyzed it. But this is a tough one. My initial reaction was negative. ”Awaken, My Love!” felt forced, a career’s worth of artistic evolution crammed into one record obsessed with showcasing the new Donald Glover. No longer is he the nerdy optimist with a case of “nice guy syndrome,” his raps filled with more punchlines than his stand-up sets. If 2013’s Because the Internet marked the beginning of a transitional phase for the artist, Glover’s new era of success is defined by even more self-seriousness found in everything from his interviews and his music to his first television show on FX. It’s a self-seriousness that very well may have landed him the role as Lando Calrissian in an upcoming Star Wars film.
2016 was…a year. What else is there too say? There’s nothing profound about how tough it was for a lot of people. While there are logical reasons for the number of celebrities and beloved musical personalities we lost, there are also plenty of personal reasons for why, at times, it really sucked. I lost both a family member and friend this year. But to solely call it a bad year wouldn’t exactly be fair to the people who also made it a special year for me. I got engaged this year. I went on tour, twice, and put out my first album. So while 2016 closed a lot of doors that left me feeling upset and anxious, it ultimately opened more with endless potential for myself and the people I hope will be a part of my life for years to come. And luckily, I didn’t go through anything alone. My Top Albums and Songs of 2016 reflect the artists that I spent time with during both my lowest and highest points over the past 12 months.
Before I started writing this review, I felt the need to revisit both Say Anything’s album from this past January, I Don’t Think It Is, as well my subsequent review of the album that I wrote for AbsolutePunk.net. This was a surreal experience, partially because of my own disdain for the album but more so because I spoke with Bemis about the aforementioned review. Following its publication, we had a (very pleasant) dialogue about my review, Bemis’s music and art criticism in general, and all things considered, it proved to be a thought-provoking and productive conversation.
What you must understand is just how much Say Anything’s music has meant to me over the past decade. Even now, at a time in my life when I find myself returning to the band’s later output less and less, it’s easy to trace a thick black line from my tastes today to the year I discovered In Defense of the Genre, and subsequently …Is a Real Boy. At the time, my 13-year-old mind had never heard something quite so complex, so unique as Bemis’s knack for musical arrangement and lyrical phrasing. They were my favorite band for years, and the release of I Don’t Think It Is in January, my review and the discussion surrounding it, left me questioning my growing musical tastes, platform, and the very purpose of music reviews in the Age of Streaming.
I caught up with Kevin Devine on the same morning that his new album, Instigator, launched for stream onto the internet — a fact he seemed almost as relieved as he was excited about. Over the next hour, we talked all kinds of things from the connection between the album’s title and its artwork, how his song “No Time Flat” has aged over the past decade, and what full-length album he might want to cover next.
Ah, The Weirdness.
Generally speaking, The Weirdness hits plenty of artists looking to follow-up their most critically acclaimed album. The timeline goes something like this: The Artist has likely released several albums to generally positive reviews. The Artist may have a modest-yet-loyal fanbase. Then, something happens to The Artist, causing them to reach within and write The Defining Statement. The Defining Statement is an album that makes critics take notice; The Defining Statement is a bridge between fans and critics. In fact, sometimes (but not always), The Artist goes on to resent or even loathe the success of The Defining Statement, and in an act of defiance, they give into The Weirdness.
The Weirdness is an album that turns heads. It is commonly experimental, a sonic left turn that pays more attention to The Artist’s tastes and less attention to what the fanbase may want. It can be an unfiltered and honest look into The Artist’s thoughts and influences. In short: The Weirdness can be awesome.
Rarely does one have a moderate stance on Radiohead. More often than not, those who are familiar with the band have by now either accepted that Thom Yorke and company are geniuses (or perhaps aliens) or that the band is, as Dan Ozzi so eloquently put it, “for boring music nerds.” It should be no surprise that I fall in the former camp, believing the band’s penchant for mystique and evolution has helped pave the way for other scene favorites (including Thrice and Brand New) and that even their most flawed albums (The Bends, Hail to the Thief) contain a spark that is integral to their later-career masterpieces.
You have to pick one: an album you enjoy or an album that the artist is happy with.
I’m not here to say either answer is correct or to call those who don’t enjoy Thrice’s long-awaited comeback, and ninth studio album, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, selfish or wrong. But let’s be honest and say that rarely does artistic growth and vision mesh completely with fan expectation. Essentially, I’m arguing that there are going to be some fans who are disappointed with Thrice’s new album. As unfortunate as that is, the band should take solace in knowing they’ve crafted their best work in years.
This is not Pinkerton.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s examine where this 10th LP (fourth self-titled) fits within The Curious Case of Weezer.
To many, Weezer are hacks; they’re notorious for “selling out” (whatever that means), a band who’s switched not only styles but a frontman who famously experimented with hundreds of songwriting methods just to reach the heights of the band’s classic debut, Weezer (The Blue Album). But it’s what’s happened between the time of The Blue Album and now that makes the band (and their enigmatic frontman, Rivers Cuomo) so endearing. There was critical success followed by critical failure; addiction followed by isolation, all in the name of goofy songs like “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun.” There was celibacy, meditation, marriage, divorce, a Lil Wayne feature, and a “return to form” all in the past two decades.
I had the opportunity to speak with the extremely humble and extremely talented Julien Baker about her recent album, Sprained Ankle. We covered everything from the album’s recording to spirituality and, naturally, we nerded out over David Bazan. Baker is a young songwriter with a lot to say, and luckily for all of us, it seems her career is only just beginning.