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Rear-view Reviews: Fever to Tell by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

24 May
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A punk-inspired album that’s everything it needs to be and nothing more.

By 2003, the same year Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their full-length debut, rock radio in the United States was a drainage ditch flowing with post-grunge losers, numetal man-children, and strawberry milk flavoured punks. According to Billboard’s Top 200 Albums of the same year, the only rock artists to crack the Top 20 were Avril Lavigne (Let Go), Linkin Park (Meteora), Evanescence (Fallen), Kid Rock (Cocky), Coldplay (A Rush Of Blood To The Head) and Good Charlotte (The Young And The Hopeless). Barring Coldplay’s offering, all of those albums sound incredibly dated today. And while AFI, Radiohead, The White Stripes, Audioslave, Queens of the Stone Age, and A Perfect Circle are examples of artists who cracked the Top 200 that year and managed to maintain relevance as time went on, the rest of the rock acts are simply forgettable.

I was 25 years-old in 2003 and nothing on commercial radio satisfied me. I had given up hope. I was already prejudiced against teens and college-aged kids. Sat at the bar of my favorite watering holes, I’d roll my eyes when they’d stroll through the door in their home-made or over-the-top vintage clothes, oily hair, minimalist tattoos, and edgier-than-thou attitudes. So as it has been through most of my teenage and adult life, I was journeying back in time to discover music that had either been released before I was born or had been too sophisticated for my younger self to appreciate. I was lamenting the death of goth and (post)punk. I had become an old man before I’d even reached my 30s.

As such, Yeah Yeah Yeahs were completely off my radar and went wholly unnoticed.

Several years later (2010?), I happened across the music video for “Maps” (the third single from Fever to Tell) on YouTube. I watched it several times in one sitting – awed by its elegant simplicity. It all felt remarkably pure; as if it had been distilled down from a more complex molecule. With the chaff left behind, it demonstrated raw, genuine vulnerability – a rarity in any genre of popular music these days.

But I didn’t dive into the rest of the album quickly. In my experience, that often leads to disappointment.

Some time later, I gave “Y Control” a listen (without the hilariously disturbing music video) and found yet another gem that didn’t need fancy facets to make it twinkle. “Y Control” flows seamlessly from intro to verse but then slaps you with an abrupt bridge that shakes you from the groove. In most songs, this would be a death sentence. Somehow, it works here. I can’t explain it. It just does.

From there, it was time to give the entirety of Fever to Tell a try. My commute to work gave me just enough time to take in the short, 37-minute album in its entirety.

What I heard was an energetic, occasionally manic, punky, and oddly danceable selection of quick hitting tracks that offers club gig energy, spontaneity, and just enough studio magic to keep it from from falling apart.

As mentioned in my thoughts on “Y Control” as a standalone track, the theme of start, flow, then rattle-the-cage is persistent throughout the album – most evident in the abrupt, initially jarring track changes. It keeps you in engaged and Fever to Tell never becomes background music.

Karen O’s voice is dynamic, going from a deep fry to fearsome shrieks and everywhere in between. Less a singer and more a vocalist, she fronts this DIY-feeling record with plenty of authority and is clearly the star of the show. Behind her, jazz-educated drummer Brian Chase steps out of his lone position in the rhythm section by avoiding clichés and forcing you to consider the beats. Guitarist Nick Zinner shows no virtuoso tendencies, opting more for rhythm-oriented duties, noisy dead-licks, single string runs, and high-gain hiss. All put together by producer David Sitek, the recorded experience  stays authentic to basement party roots.

Looking at the album nearly 15 years after it’s release, it holds up far better than the vast majority of early 2000s rock offerings. Fever to Tell doesn’t sound out of fashion, because I don’t think its creation was dictated by fads – at least not musically. Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ inspiration seems to pull from at least two decades of college radio, making it unlikely to sport any real expiration date on the packaging.

All that said, I wish I had been listening to this album in 2003 rather than brooding over dive-bar beers and wondering what had happened to rock. Given Fever to Tell was only certified Gold in the United States by the RIAA in 2007 and received overwhelmingly positive reviews, I’m probably not alone in having missed out the first time around.

Rating: 8/10

Stream on Spotify

-Scott Goins

 

 

 

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2016 Election: An Expat’s Point of View

12 Nov

For the past six years, I’ve lived over four thousand miles from my place of birth in North Carolina – separated from it by one of Earth’s great oceans. Beyond the simple geographic disconnect, I live differently than I did in the United States. I quite literally view the world and my homeland from a different perspective. The fact that I have no plans to reside in the United States again in the foreseeable future only adds to that. My future is here, in the Netherlands.

So when it comes to the United States’ 2016 election, I wasn’t in the thick of it. I wasn’t bombarded by shady election ads. I didn’t have to talk about it every day at work. Only social media kept me even remotely plugged in. And if I’m honest, my Facebook feed is largely a personal, liberal/progressive echo chamber. But even with social media being a large part of my life, I looked at all of this from an outsider’s point of view, because what happens in this election only scarcely effects me.

What I can see from this view is that it was a sewer fire. In short, the Democratic National Committee poisoned itself by rigging its nomination process to favour Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Clinton served to be the ultimate ‘establishment’ candidate, which translated to so many in the voting public as ‘corrupt, out of touch, and a zero-sum-difference to business as usual.’

On the other side, Republican voters chose Donald Trump as their candidate – a man that gathered support, in large part, because his narrative made him look like anything but the status quo. His campaign successfully portrayed him as the kind of person who isn’t beholden to Washington’s good-ol’ boy club of elites by virtue of the fact that he is not one of the dreaded ‘career politicians’ everyone gets so excited about despising these days.

And above all else, he made those that feel discriminated against (rather than those who in reality are) feel powerful.

And it worked, not just to secure the Republican nomination, but to secure the office of President of the United States of America.

Ever since the results rolled in on Wednesday morning, I’ve seen myriad responses – most of which come from American friends on social media. Most consist of short-sighted half-truths and insults with the rare point of wisdom sprinkled among them.

But one point I’ve yet to see made, by anyone on either side, is just exactly how this plucky billionaire huckster/reality show star named Trump, who will become the 45th President of the United States, is actually a change from the status quo in any meaningful sense.

But before we get to that point, let’s talk about something we can all agree on, and what frankly caused this election to go the way it did. And please note that this is where the profanity will begin.

A damn good chunk of those elected into federal and state governments are rotten. Right? No matter the party, it’s fair to say that many, if not most, don’t even give half a shit about the average person; their daily struggles, health, or quality of life. And those who fill these elected posts have their influence swayed by a two primary things. First and foremost is the desire to stay in their position or rise to a higher one. They do things that look good to Jack and Jane Main Street in order to further their chosen careers. Second, and perhaps a more sinister influence, is the lobbying industry, working on behalf of well-funded industries and political action committees. They make deals to support political careers in exchange for favorable votes.

And therein lies the rub.

Donald Trump may not be a career politician but he is one of the very people who has influenced government by extensively lobbying politicians. And while he has touted his ability to run things cleanly, by virtue of the fact that he doesn’t need money or influence from anyone else, it doesn’t change the fact that he is among those that have caused the corruption so many say they’re rallying against.

Donald Trump is not among the diseased. He is the disease.

So how exactly is a vote for Trump a vote for anything like legitimate change?

It isn’t.

And finally, because I simply can’t resist it, let’s talk about bigotry in this election.

First, I know damn well that not all, and maybe not even most of Trump’s voters are some variety of racist, homophobe, sexist, etc. I’m guessing that many, legitimately if not ironically, did cast their votes for him in protest of the staus quo. They may not be bigots, but they are rubes and their fleecing will come.

But The Donald’s rhetoric and his election to the office of president has emboldened bigotry. When you see some slimy git rolling coal in his pick-up truck, sporting a “Make America Great Again” sticker in his back window and flying the Stars and Bars, you can pretty much guarantee that the person driving it has used the word nigger and/or faggot ten times in the past twenty-four hours. And if you somehow labor under the delusion that this isn’t the case, you are a goddamned cretin.

I only tell you this because you need to know that.

In summary, it all comes down to this. The choice was made. It was an emotional choice. And that is the problem. People voted for Clinton with their feelings. People voted for Trump with their feelings.

And your feelings have only lead you further into the Post American Century.

Sell Me Something Healthy

17 Jun

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are highly skeptical about modern, Western medicine.

Fair enough.  I can empathize with this feeling to a certain capacity.  Having lived in the States for most of my life, I’ve seen the near constant flow of pharmaceutical reps quickly passing in and out of the various doctors’ offices I’ve visited.  I’ve also known enough people who were strung out on a cocktail of prescription medications they may or may not have legitimately needed at some point.  It can all seem rather consumer driven, which seems contrary to the general idea of health care.

But, every time I click a link to an article that tells me that eating fish oil soaked broccoli while standing on my head will eliminate a variety of ailments, I always find that something is for sale.

Whether it’s that the source of the information is splattered with ads in one form or another, the text has several internal keyword hyperlinks links (one of the most basic means for keeping people on a site so they can look at more ads), or there’s a small library of e-books for sale, someone always wants my money.

That being the case, I can’t see any significant difference between the alternative health trade and modern Western medicine.  If anything, both smack of hypocrisy.

And for some reason, I find the hypocrisy from the side of alternative medicine to be the greater sin and infinitely more infuriating.  I don’t think Pfizer makes any explicit or implicit claims to be some kind of caring, warm, and fuzzy non-profit.  But alternative health gurus love to play the role of an oppressed caregiver full of nothing but good intentions when in reality, they’re just playing to a niche market.

Houston’s Death Should Shine Light on Larger Issues, But Won’t

13 Feb

So Whitney Houston is dead.

My first reactions were pretty typical of me when it comes to celebrities running amok.  I didn’t really care.

To me, it seems somewhat disingenuous to go on about how sad it is that this famous person died or suffered some other brand of misfortune.  It also feels a little inappropriate to me when we pass judgement on the circumstances.  While these people have indeed made the choice to live their lives in the public’s scope, we very rarely know who they really are.  I support the idea that says people in the public eye (entertainers, politicians, and the like) should be subject to a certain amount of scrutiny.  But there’s a limit to what we can see with the naked eye.

I do believe that Houston’s death, which we all pretty much presume was connected to her substance abuse issues, should be important though.

The reason being is that in America, all things related to drugs seem to be viewed through a rather strange lens, and that is perhaps highlighted by Houston’s struggles.

First, there’s the issue of illegal recreational drugs including, but not limited to marijuana, cocaine in its various forms, LSD, ecstasy, and heroin/opiates. Continue reading

Redneck Dad Shoots Laptop – No Hero in My Eyes

11 Feb

One of the more popular videos making its way around the net right now is this one entitled Facebook Parenting: For the troubled teen.

Here it is:

Here we have a common species of super-suburban/rural American redneck who is angry with his teenaged daughter because she doesn’t much care for him and expressed this behind his back.  More specifically, she did this on Facebook.  We can presume that either she forgot to set the privacy level for her post to friends-only or her father used some manner of trickery to gain access, which seems most likely given he touts his occupation as, “working in IT.”  He read the offending post after he’d spent time and money to upgrade her laptop computer.  Feeling oh-so slighted, he makes a video of himself reading the Facebook post aloud, reprimands his daughter publicly and finishes things off by putting several .45 caliber “exploding hollow point rounds” through his daughter’s laptop computer, presumably the very device she used to make the post.  That is to say he repeatedly shoots the fucking thing with a semi-automatic pistol.

He shoots… a goddamned laptop.

Continue reading

Thank You, Madonna. Now, Please Stop.

6 Feb

Let me start by saying I’m a fan.  I like Madonna.  She’s without a doubt the most important female pop musician of the 80’s and is only bested perhaps by Michael Jackson.  She’s arguably the most important woman ever in pop.  These are things that just can’t be denied.

On a more personal note, Madonna kind of served as one of my first celebrity crushes (along with Annie Lennox).  That is to say she helped shape my view of the world in a rather significant way.  After all, my very first memory of seeing something sexy and understanding that it was indeed something arousing was her performance of “Like a Virgin” on MTV’s Video Music Awards in 1994.  That was and has been a touch stone in my sexuality ever since.

And the music, while rarely mind-blowing, was at least throughout the 80’s and early 90’s acceptably dance-worthy, fun, and addictive.  Not to mention that you never mistook her voice for someone else.

But now, after nearly 30 years of legitimate fame, Madonna is just terrible. Continue reading