Monday, July 30, 2012

Ducktails- Landscapes

There has never been a better time for nostalgia than the present day. There are so many ways to access the past: classic videogame emulators, YouTube accounts dedicated to obscure shows, commercials, cartoons and so on, to even things like entire websites and blogs dedicated to nostalgic topics, such as the Angry Video Game Nerd On or the Nostalgia Critic videos on About a year ago, I had a deep descent into nostalgia thanks to a motherlode of VHS tapes my parents let me take from our old family collection. Among them were many shows and movies taped off of cable TV, the commercials and station identifying bumps giving me a window into culture from my barely-remembered youth.

I would wager my generation may be the most nostalgic of all, simply because of how soon we became nostalgic, and how soon someone of our music reflected that. By my college years in the early 00s, it was already a thing to hang out, drink, and play old videogames. For whatever reason, the 'chillwave' music made by Ducktails, Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, and others gives the listener a nostalgic feel, and seems like it could only exist here and now, and only appeal to people like me. It brings to mind the glorious aspects of being young in the 80s and 90s without any consideration given to all the bad and serious stuff from those decades which rose tinted glasses help us glaze over. "Glaze" is a pretty good term to describe the music of Ducktails. After all, even the more traditional indie rock instrumentation on Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics seems suffused with a half-baked predilection for effects pedals and cheap production. He could have something better than a used 4-track, but he keeps hocking it for weed money.

Landscapes represents the purest distillation of pre-Real Estate Ducktails, in which vocals infrequently appear, and when they do, they are either earnestly bizarre ('Spring') or sound dribbled from the mouth of someone on strong cold medication ('House Of Mirrors'). This is a lazier, giving-less-of-a-fuck time for Ducktails, bringing to mind the kind of music someone just-serious-enough about music would make while bored, stuck in town during a college Spring Break at their parents' house. On one hand the purposefully shitty/cheap and Casio sounding beats of 'Landrunner' and 'Welcome Home [I'm Back]' are true to the nostalgic, "I made this with a bunch of instruments I took from my parents' attic" spirit of the Ducktails project, but on the other hand, if this guy can afford so many effects pedals, I bet he could afford real drums.

Wait, wasn't that sort of what Ducktails III ended up sounding like? Hmmm, yeah, I suppose so. In which case we arrive at why I love Landscapes in spite of its accidental or willful incompetence. It takes many a productive stoned afternoon and vision to produce tracks like the Boards Of Canada-esque 'Deck Observatory' or the shimmering guitar showpiece 'Wishes', and I admire any man who has one or both of those things. Stoned afternoons and vision, I mean. Ducktails III may be the better overall record, and Ducktails II is an underrated lo-fi classic, but neither has the perfect ability to incite nostalgia in me, or to approximate what it's like to spend your days playing 8-bit Nintendo games while eating Count Chocula and drinking cheap beer at a friends' apartment.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Centipede Hz Album Cover

Can we all please please please agree that this is the worst album cover in recent memory? I mean look at this shit. It looks like an acid trip as illustrated by an 8th grade computer graphics class in 1990. It raises more questions the more I look at and/or think about it. Questions I'll now pose and sarcastically answer.

Q: Was that font taken from an early Super NES game? Possibly one developed in America and made to look like what the people of 1991 thought 2011 would be like?
A: Yes.

Q: Could this be an elaborate hoax meant to scare off new fairweather Merriweather fans?
A: Nope, it's been too long and no new cover art to replace the hoax.

Q: If a thousand elephants were taught how to paint and also given conditioning so that they had anxiety attacks whenever they heard any kind of electronic sound, would one of them eventually paint something resembling this cover?
A: I think we both know the answer to that.

Q: Is the childish, borderline willfully-bad, and inept design of this cover indicative of how little of a fuck the band must give about their image or being considered serious artists?
A: Most likely, but I still might like the album, so I could be wrong.

Q: Based on the 'Honeycomb'/'Gotham' single from earlier this Summer, do you think they might have lost it, or do they still have it?
A: I'll answer that when I figure out if these two songs are god awful attempts to sound experimental or the next interesting step from a band reconciling their newfound status as indie leaders with their weirder, wilder, more druggy, and obscure past. Right now I'm leaning toward the latter.

Q: Follow-up question: are you on drugs right now?
A: No further questions, please.

All fooling around aside, I'm excited about Centipede Hz though its cover is ugly.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Beach Fossils- Beach Fossils

As we become older, I'd like to think our tastes mature. Sure, I may still get a laugh or three out of Dumb & Dumber or Billy Madison, but most of the time I gravitate toward more thought provoking and, I guess, intellectual fare. At the same time, paradoxically, I think as we get older we end up wanting more and more of the things we love and are less inclined to give a chance to entirely new experiences. As a high schooler, I felt like my musical journey would last the rest of my life. Now, 10 years later, I feel like I'm on a plateau, resting during a smoke break.

I've been taking an extended hiatus from Whiskey Pie, you may have noticed, and took that time to listen to music without thinking of it in terms of whether I would write about it and what I would say. It was a return to that high school era of open discovery, come to think of it, though in this case it was less about reading reviews than it was blindly downloading interesting looking stuff from this blog, Shoegazer Alive 5b. Discovery, yes...pure musical discovery; no thought given to something beyond whether I liked it or not.

"Liked" is crucial to me because when I like something, I stick with it, and keep returning to it, even if I never feel anything particularly strong about it. Often I come to love something out of bloody minded repetition, and Beach Fossils is definitely one of those cases. I've been listening to them off and on since the Fall and woke up a few days ago realizing I was addicted to their stuff. There are so many bands I would have given up on right off the bat if I had a deadline looming and needed to write a review that day and thus didn't have time to let it grow on me. Beach Fossils, and their self titled debut more specifically, grew on me. Like an addiction.

Anyway, getting back to the opening...

I currently find myself in a period where all I want to do is listen to retro influenced indie rock bands, whether it's more psychedelic leaning ones like Woods and The Black Angels or more jangle-pop influenced ones like Real Estate and Twerps. Beach Fossils split the difference by being both vaguely psychedelic and vaguely jangle-y, with a distinct 60s surf influence. Meaning what, exactly? Well, lots of reverb, lots of tap-able and/or clap-able rhythms, lots of melodic bass lines, lots of tom-toms and lo-fi drum machines (at least that's what it sounds like on 'Golden Age') , catchy but not cloying hooks, and a hazy sense of semi-stoned, nostalgic satisfaction. Or sardonic, feigned indifference, depending on the song.

Beach Fossils is a solid 4 out of 5, B-level record. Yet I'm not giving out scores anymore and here's a good example why; this is the sort that I could easily see a lot of people, like I did, keeping it around on the floor by the record player, listening to it here or there until it goes from an interesting listen to an obligatory listen, the kind you can't seem to get out of your head for days, if not weeks, on end. Scores are too definitive for so changeable a feeling as how much I like something. Right now, to me, Beach Fossils is at least as good as Rubber Soul. It is an album full of songs as much as it is atmospheres, the sort of headspace you want to re-visit. These are songs and atmospheres, yes, evoking faded memories of Summer vacations spent on humid porches and air conditioned living room carpets, playing whatever the current Nintendo console was or talking about girls (or boys) you were going to ask out that year. It's modern and yet nostalgic, inessential and yet indispensable.