Fall Out Boy – Folie a Deux

Fall Out Boy
Folie A Deux
Island Records

I know what it is that you expect from me dear readers. You sit at your desk at work thinking to your self, “there is all this music culture being marketed at me and I just don’t know what to make of it. They want me to believe that everything I hear is the greatest music ever and that music and culture are moving forward. But I need a reliable, biased voice that rails against all of this. I should drop in on Franconia Station and see what he has to say.” I am hear (this is a pun, it started out as a spelling mistake, but it works in context. I am pointing it out in homage to journalistic integrity and to annoy Mike Geary) for you dear reader. I will help you maneuver through the madness. I will lie, cheat and steal to get you the information that you need to navigate through all the bullshit. And today I will let you in on my first impressions of the new Fall Out Boy album so you don’t have to go out and buy it.

It’s no secret that I have a very conflicted relationship to Fall Out Boy. How can you not though. Patrick Stump’s voice is amazing and Pete Wendtz is the cliche poster boy for rock and roll redone with pouty lips to fit into the teen culture of debauched preciousness. Fall Out Boy write sugar rock music that is relies on saccharine harmony and piercing hooks and they have just enough self doubt and self loathing to make them mildly human and amusing. Least we forget that guitarist Joe Troham is going through some identity crisis with his new Lenny Kravitz/Omar Rodriguez wardrobe and hair do or that Drummer Andy Hurley struggles between being a self proclaimed nihilistic anarchist performing in the worlds most dreamy pop band. Fall Out Boy intrigue me in this really terrible way that I just can’t seem to ignore.

It should also be clarified that I did not obtain this album through purchase at a store. I will not share how I came to be in possession of Folie a Deux. I will only share that I purposely sought after this album and was able to obtain it by means that are not cool, even if you don’t like the artist, not paying for music is not cool. Yes I burn CD’s for people and they do so in return (except for Mike Geary, I seem to be unable to send him CD’s) but even so, as a reputable journalist I can not condone the methods of which I obtain music sometimes, such as I did with this album. I still can’t bring myself to give Pete Wedtz any money though and it pained me to purchase Lifetime’s self titled return on his Decaydence label two years ago.

So what is Folie a Deux all about you ask? Well, it’s about mid tempo boring pop rock music, influenced by sounds so much greater then what they produce. Patrick Stump performs amazingly as always. His voice is strong, sweet, soulful and powerful as it has been since From Under the Cork Tree (please note I have not listened to much of their prior output). It continues my want for him to make a legitimate soul or R&B record. But four songs in the music is fucking terrible. The song “American Suitehearts” (no Pete you are not witty. I know you own Braid and Promise Ring albums and you want to pay homage to them, but Davey and Bob actually understand the English Language) is a disgusting cross between Aerosmith and Green Day. It just doesn’t really work. I’m currently on the sludging “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet” which is just a mess of rock/fuck overdrive. The song is having a fucking identity crisis. Oh now, they have a spiritual hymn, piano driven coda here. Fucking really? Really? Lets skip this track before it freaks out on me and starts running amok around my office.

See, even “The (Shipped) Gold Standard” starts out nice, with an updated homage to the proto emo bands that me and Pete grew up on, but it so quickly falls into more mid-tempo boredom with choppy guitar strumming and vocals.

Fall Out Boy knows how to mimic their influences, and judging by this album, they are listening to a lot of great bands, Queen, the Ramones, The Who and they are applying all of them to their odd brand of poppiness. But it’s not working. They aren’t a classic rock band, in the sense that they did not exist in the 60’s and 70’s. Their approach on Folie a Deux though seems to be an attempt to update these juggernauts and I just hate it. It’s a similar train wreck as Infinity on High was, but where that album just felt awkward, this one just feels bad. I actually hate admitting this, but I miss the straight forward poppy punk inspired rockage of From Under the Cork Tree. This continuing exploration of Micheal Jackson crossed with Ted Nugent is making me want to really hurt some people. Please avoid this album. I’ve suffered enough so you don’t have to.

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At Ben’s Chili Bowl, A Week After Barack Obama

Picture the scene, a crowded restaurant in an upwardly growing neighborhood. There is a line from the front door all the way to the dinning area. A week earlier the 44th president of the United States had walked into the historic landmark eatery known as Ben’s Chili Bowl and put the lovable, local establishment into the minds and hearts of an awestruck public. The tourists have been flocking ever since to the Ben’s Chili Bowl as they slowly undo their meaty claws from this city.

I sit, tucked away in a corner with my friend, eating a delicious plate of veggi-chili cheese fries (the number one reason why I just can’t seem to commit to veganism, Ben’s veggi-chili cheese fries have been a part of my diet for 16 years now). Across the way from me sits a family, and for the purposes of this story it is important to notate that they are an African American Family, mom, dad and daughter. This family of three is quietly finishing their meal seated at a table made for six. In line, waiting impatiently, filled with the entitlement I am sure the mid-west has brought her, is a white woman. I’d say this woman is in her early sixties. Tired and weary from a week of imprinting her carbon foot print all over the nations capitol, this woman doesn’t so much ask as imposes herself upon one of the empty seats.

“We heard that Barack Obama came here,” the woman says with the kind of boisterous kindness that would make most decent people prone to incidental violence. “Is the food really worth the wait?”

The mother, not particularly animated, presumably answers the woman kindly. I stare down the line of people, so many of them unaware that this is fairly typical, if not slightly exaggerated for the local business. The line seems to fluctuate in length as some of the curious bail out, too impatient to wait for the now historic meal.

“So, you all must come here all the time,” the white woman says to the mother and daughter. Her face has the kind of grin that makes small children cry. It lacks depth or sincerity in a way that leaves me ill at ease as I scarf down on my lunch.

“No, this is our first time. Were from out of town,” the mother says, louder then any other words she has uttered before, but not hostile or impolite. They are tempered words, spoken from a slighted person. Without missing a beat, the middle aged debutant begins to rattle on, unstoppable in her quest to talk as much as possible, as loud as possible to a woman she has surely just offended, nary one week after this great country has seen the first non white male take the oath of president.

The woman and her daughter finish the last of their meal under the barge of this woman’s ceaseless talking. As she expresses her love for and admiration for this great president the woman and daughter politely get up from their seats and follow their husband, previously absent from paying the tab and not privy to this conversation, through the crowed and out the front door into another of DC’s crisp winter days.

So if you needed any further evidence that we still have a long long way to go, then I offer you this tale. It’s bad enough that the city I have lived, loved and loathed for most of my life is constantly overrun by tourists and congressional aides who are only pausing through this pit stop of their life. But to have to be subjected to this kind of stupidity in perhaps the greatest testament to perseverance I have ever known just breaks my heart.

Anyone familiar with the U street neighborhood that Ben’s Chili Bowl has called their home for more than 50 years now, has seen the homogenized, gentrification that has over run it. In the days of my youth, visiting the Bee Hive or even playing shows at the Kaffa House this neighborhood wasn’t what your suburban mother would consider safe. In those days, Ben’s Chili Bowl offered a welcoming arm to pieced punk rock kids, so far from their own neighborhoods tucked in suburban Maryland and Virginia. There was a time when only our pale, young faces were the only white ones that could be found in Ben’s. Today, as the old town homes are gutted for condos, or bulldozed over for multi-purpose commercial lots the faces of the patrons have slowly changed.

I wonder what is to become of the U street neighborhood, how it will hold on to it’s history. While it certainly is becoming “revitalized” it’s also becoming a lot more “white”. I wonder too what role my and my peers played in the transformation of the U street corridor. After all, we began to move in to the houses, set up clubs and situate ourselves, welcomed or not with in the streets, playing our music and hanging out. Did our invasion make this neighborhood “safe” for the upward moving, working upper class? Was it our presence that made developers take a look at the streets and think about ways in which they could “rejuvenate” the neighborhood. Sure former mayor Anthony Williams had a lot to do with it, and it would be unkind of me to say that he had done more damage than good. But I can’t help wonder what happened to the people that used to live there, because they don’t live near U street anymore.

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Kelly Clarkson – My Life Would Suck Without You

Kelly Clarkson
“My Life Would Suck Without You”
from the forthcoming album All I Ever Wanted
RCA

Alright, I’m not going to lie. When it comes to ladies that sing poppy syrup crap, I have a weakness. So when a windfall of funds were generated through the saving of coins, I decided to buy some iTunes. I’ve know this single had been out for a while, but I wasn’t going to buy it. But as it stands, I had a dollar left after the purchases I made (which by the way Young Widows Old Wounds is some fantastic Shellac inspired sludgey rock – but we will get to that later) so I downloaded the current number one hit.

So my first impression of the song after one listen through, it’s nothing like the songs from My December, Clarkson’s personal artistic statement, and perhaps one of so few in pop music these days. The track was written by the guys that wrote her hit “Since You’ve Been Gone” which as Ted Leo shows is a great, hooky song. But this just falls flat to me. It’s a tired road without the panache of their former collaboration and it lacks the guts and edge that made the songs on My December so distinctive. She doesn’t even sounds like she means anything she’s saying. I believed her on the songs in My December. She was an angry lady on that album, and the venom and emotion existed. Based on this performance I get the feeling her life would be perfectly fine without the object of her affection. That isn’t boding well form who ever she might be sweet on these days.

Is this where I get off the Clarkson bandwagon? Probably. Frankly, it seems she’s caving to the pressures of her record label by putting out sugar rock teeny bopper hits instead of carving out a career in music. I mean the industry will never learn sure, but I had hoped that the American Idol would use her stardom leverage to make the kind of records that actually mean something to her. But this is the same bread and butter crap she was doing 5 years ago, and not nearly as anthmatic.

Sorry Kelly, but I think my love affair is over. I hope to see you take the lead shown to you by Reba McEntire and you make a classy country album one day. Or blow me away with some soulful ballads. But yr beyond this music. And frankly, so am I.

Matt and Kim – Grand

Matt and Kim
Grand
Fader

Contrary to what you will find here by and large, I do in fact like happy, positive music. I have found however, that there just isn’t a whole lot of it out there and often when people try to bring the positive out look to the whole music scene it just becomes a bunch of kitschy nonsense. We live in a world where expressing happiness and joy isn’t part of the artistic lexicon. We find it sometimes in the funny pages, and occasionally on our situation comedies. But rarely do we find it in music. Not in any sincere way and usually not in a way that is cohesive and artistic.

I think the best leader for this album could be the lyrics from “Lessons Learned” where Matt Johnson sings “broken legs can be replaced” over the sweet da da da’s of the lovely Kim Schifino in her vocal debut. Even when shit is fucked, there is always the future where things will get better. This is what Matt and Kim has been about for me. The energy to see that no matter how fucked my shit is at the moment, it’s only an uphill battle to better times.

Any one who has seen this duo live can attest to the over abundant positive vibes they emit without shame or self consciousness. They are, by there own admission, generally upbeat people. When you operate in the jaded, critical world of independent music amongst the swarm of ironic hipsters, angry punkers and sarcastic, fat white kid bloggers and you can survive in total opposition to that, and be from New York City, and play Casio keyboards without any hint of sardonicism then you deserve the applause. Yes, I am following in a stream of hundreds of critics and bloggers by pointing it out. But positivity is an anomaly. It deserves it’s due here, and it is vital to the music.

So what does Grand do that’s so good? Frankly the album has shown a band that has grown tremendously. Their self titled debut was a fast frenzy of seemingly similar songs that was a fun listen, but lacked greatly in an lush overtures or variant sonic exploration. It’s fun and fist pumping, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of song. Grand does not suffer from this problem at all. It varies in tempo, it varies in tone and temperature, it has lush and deep bass and twinkling trebles. Even the drum beats are varied more, not just chock full of bash and pop. The band benefited greatly from doing it themselves, controlling the recording process and environment. Matt and Kim took the time to explore the possibilities and at the end of the journey came out with a really solid album.

I must say though, that the album feels somewhat tempered. The reflection on sounds is a real treat, but aside from the instrumental “Cinders” and the fantastic “Lessons Learned” the duo never really revs it up and blows it out. I think this album will translate very well in their live show, and perhaps the tunes will have more of that unchecked giddiness the group is known and loved for. I just wish they had found a little more of that here on the plastic disc that was delivered to my front door.

Grand was released on Inauguration Day, a day where a large portion of American’s found a lot of positive energy and hope. I don’t think this can be understated though I doubt it was calculated on the part of Matt and Kim or Fader. Grand is a testemant to hope and to change both in it’s craft and it’s fabric. I can’t think of a better record to underline the feelings our nation is in. Matt and Kim will bring a smile to your face, will make you shuffle your feet on the street and for me, that’s a lot to celebrate.

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Kanye West’s New Record is not good, it’s not even listenable

Everyone seems to love Kanye West a lot. Even in my small little world, that tries not to reach out to the masses, I find Kanye West everywhere. It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes think he was elected president. Ever since he dropped Late Registration on us, I can’t seem to get away from him. I admit even then I succumbed to the hype and had to check him out. After all he produced some of the best, mainstream hip hop of the early part of this decade with Mos Def and Common. And not to mention his work with mega stars like Ludacris and Jay-Z would be heresy even for me. So I got that record, I listened to “Gold Digger” scratching my head, I dug “Sierra Leone” and felt weird when listening to “Roses” and “Hey Mamma”. I also really dug his presence on “The Food” that he did with Common which was one of the best hip hop songs I had heard in a long time.

But the hype just seemed inflated to me. Granted, corporate Hip Hop sucks. I mean when Jay Z, Biggie Smalls and Tupac are the best that can be glorified and Q-Tip can’t even get his albums on the shelf I guess Kanye West is a bit refreshing. He is a hell of a producer, I will give him that. But this is what seems to bother me the most about 808’s and a Heartbreak, because I think musically, it’s pretty astounding and original. But I haven’t even listened to much of it, because the 15 year old girl poetry lyrics and robotic voice fucking kills me.

If I remember correctly, and I probably don’t, Common’s Finding Forever was hinting at this future stylistic approach. That album, handled in great deal by Kanye, was such a mess to me, especially after hearing Be which was a very organic, jazzy influenced affair. I couldn’t listen to the Finding Forever album save for “Drivin’ Me Wild” and I think that had to do more with Lily Allen doing something more quality then what I have seen from her. If I was any good at this journalism thing, I would go back and listen to a few tracks, but I don’t feel like looking through my iPod and then tracking down the burned copy I got from a friend and uploading it again. Needless to say, the album as a whole didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and Common dropped off my radar.

So when listening to 808’s and a Heartbreak all I could think about was Common. Though this album is certainly a testament to the digital, computer and information driven age that we live in, I felt that if this was Common’s playground to drop his insight over, and he used his deep, delicate and precise voice to do so, it would be not only a great contrast to the music, but act as a counter argument. There would be the element of humanness to oppose the repression of the digital world that our hands seem to constantly be caressing. The gadgets at our sides, the ones that interrupt conversations, or the websites that we flock to (like this one!) would some how be less appealing with a voice of reason. Instead, we get the 21st Century Digital Boy that Bad Religion was singing about.

And frankly, lyrically, this album is bullshit. Hip Hop does not need the equivalent to emo rock bullshit. Loneliness, seclusion, isolation and, as the title suggests, heartbreak are valid, important and deep topics and they belong in Hip Hop. But my god, self loathing, woe is me bullshit, especially from a man who expresses himself physically in designer clothes and big rides and with no humility what so ever just doesn’t fly with me. I find it hard to muster up the empathy for this new Kanye. El-P tackled a lot of this same desolate landscape of the psyche on his I’ll Sleep When Your Dead album and did it with a masterful vulnerability that Kanye West just doesn’t really seem to hit at. He internalizes and plays the role of victim without revealing any of his own major flaws. Instead, he laments about lost love, not being understood by the critics (like me) and hated by the haters (also like me).

It’s criticism though that Kanye West needs. Because I for one see so much more in this cold, inhuman album. That might even be the problem. The auto-tuned, digital voice reminds me of my voice mail and I instantly just don’t care what it has to tell me. No matter how true and human the sentiments may be, to my ears they just sound pathetic.

William Bowers wrote in his Puritan column on Pitchfork one of the first ever pieces of vulnerable writing on that website recently. Bowers lamented on his regret for not having reached out to a friend of his who recently committed suicide through music and specifically through this album I have been ranting about. Far be it from me to take that experience away from Mr. Bowers. I agree that music has a great deal of power and even in our pop music consumption we find power to move on in the face of everyday struggle. The west is a largely blessed culture. We have access to so much more then most of the rest of the world. And yet in that we still face heartache, depression, madness and loneliness. These maladies speak to the problems and the benefits of our consumptive, free market culture. So I see how in that context 808’s and a Heartbreak might be a comfort.

So if we are approaching this album in a way that it’s not a piece of art, but a moment of entertainment, then I can find something to work with. But music should be more then just entertainment and Kanye West has certainly hit at this throughout his career. Music, like art and literature is an expression of something larger then just entertaining distraction or comfort in sad times. I would hope that any album has some power to heal, comfort or relate to the listener. Music certainly does that for me, and as anyone who is a member of my facebook mafia can attest to, this week I certainly leaned on music to get me through the bullshit in my head. But the human being behind this work is buried. The power of the words are obscured by the concept and execution. It leaves this listener cold and tuned out. Which sometimes, I think might just be the point.

DEAR M.I.A

This is how you pay homage to the Clash you no talent ass clown:

Lily Allen, please get some better song writers and lyrics and you could actually be a serious threat in a terrible pop music fabric that desperately needs a diva with substance.

More bitching later.

xoxo
me

Notes on an Inauguration you aren’t really a part of

Washington DC is going fucking crazy right now. Even in the suburban mall that my company’s building sits on top of, all the stores are plastered with the visage of our great savior and second coming messiah or whatever they are calling President Elect Barack Obama these days. If I see one more ghetto fabulous air brushed t-shirt of his face, it will be too soon.

I admit it, in a moment of what I consider now, great personal weakness, I voted for the man. I was won over easily in regards to his views on abortion and governments role. What he said, if I may paraphrase, was that government is not here to make laws in regard to moral ideology. This is my basic, central argument against the illegality of abortion. Sorry to disappoint, but no my views on this are not rooted in any kind of “her body, her choice” kind of cheer leading. No, the role of government is municipal essentially. I want my schools and libraries funded, my trash picked up, my roads paved, some nice parks and a couple of days off every year. While I do personally think that all people have the right to chose what they do with their bodies, and yes it is a woman’s body and there for her deal, that mentality of mine does not directly inform my ideas about the role of our government and what laws should do for us. The government is not really nor should it be interested in that nonsense. So I thought, that in good conscience I could vote, get on the “Change” and “Hope” bandwagons and feel good about myself.

Then this whole Rick Warren thing happened. To say my mild bemusement at myself didn’t turn into something unholy wretched is an understatement. And really, I shouldn’t be surprised. Obama is after all a man of god and in the throes of the American mainstream. But for me, this really undermines the whole power of the moment where America stood up for a second for change. In all sincerity, the President is our figure head, and the fact that we finally elected someone who is not male and white is a pretty fucking big deal. No matter what you feel about politics or any of this shit, electing this dude makes America look a lot better than it have in a long long time.

But Rick Warren, like many that attend such mega churches as he resides over, doesn’t believe that our nations wonderful gay people should be allowed to enter into a simple, civic union called Marriage. See the problem is again, in regards to civil liberties here. I don’t care if Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews or whatever want to be ignorant, bigoted assholes in their communities and not hold marriage services or recognize gay marriage in their walls. Who gives a shit what they think. I don’t care if they do want to hold these ceremonies and be all “progressive” and accepting and all the other crap religion generally says they are for and then significantly undermines it all with terrible action and speech.

The institution of marriage is not, by any means a religious one. It has absolutely nothing to do with god and it certainly existed before many of these holy books were scribbled out trying to dictate life on this planet. The institution of marriage is a civil, legal union that in all actuality has very little to do even with love. Any dick fucks can get married. I don’t believe in god, ascribe to any faith, have any spiritual beliefs at all, but I can walk into a courthouse at anytime and get married to any willing woman. That doesn’t sound particularly spiritual, holy or godly to me.

So if Atheists can marry, why can’t GAYS? We’ve obviously just proven that marriage has nothing to do with god and family right here, right now. The protections offered to married couples under the laws of the United States also have nothing to do with love and god. They are about maintaining property and having someone take care of your legal shit should the mortal coil leave your body. It is unconscionable that we don’t offer this basic civil right to people just because they share the same sex organs. Who we find to actually look over us and take care of our shit is inconsequential in regards of religious beliefs. There isn’t even a logical argument against the prevention of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered people getting civic, legal marriage certificates. It is, without argument, unconstitutional.

For me, Rick Warren is the anti-Hope (and lets not get me started on the poor use of the words Hope and Change). He drained all the hope out of me, and believe me, there wasn’t much to begin with. Sure our next PREZ says he’s might overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and yes maybe this vibe will create some positive culture and expression and shit might get done on that mega-uber-corporate like bureaucracy that leads to some good things happening in people’s lives. But for me, I just don’t feel that change is coming, that there is much to hope for. If we validate shit bagging thieves like Rick Warren (please lets not get me started on mega churches) to force their poison into this new national lexicon, well then we haven’t learned anything, and this great moment in history that even I am clinging onto right now is a big fat fuck up.

So yes, I am gonna be that curmudgeon today. I’m gonna snub my nose at this blatant hypocrisy. I am gonna shit in your bowl of Wheaties, piss on your lawn and be THAT GUY with the t-shirt of the band he’s going to rock out to in the club. You don’t have to like it. But please know that I am deeply disappointed that I still have to put up with this insane dialog about gay marriage. It hurts my heart very very deeply.

I just want to conclude now by saying fuck you California for the whole prop 8 thing. I want to remind everyone that innocent people in Palatine are systematically being destroyed by another government who seems to poses very bad tactical information in regards to their enemy to the point that I am beginning to believe that they aren’t going after Hamas at all but just killing anyone that gets in their way. And finally don’t let me lead by example and start hiding in your room, ranting in front of a glowing scream while a 19 year old Conor Oberst whines at you. Do something positive. Prove me wrong. Change the world. I believe in you.