Wednesday, October 8, 2014

War On Whimsy, Vol.1 - Ukuleles

Fuck a ukulele.

10 years ago, ukuleles were a novelty instrument. Whenever you heard one, you were either in a Hawaiian airport or listening to Tiny Tim sing "Tiptoe Through The Tulips".

Actually, 9 times out of 10 you were probably listening to Tiny Tim sing "Tiptoe Through The Tulips".

These days, however, you hear and see them EVERYWHERE. They're trendy as hell, like flannel and wallet chains were in the mid-90s. Similarly to those fashion relics, you might see people walking around on sunny days, carrying a ukulele, but not playing it. Perhaps they even have a leather case for their "axe". That's because, like, a wallet chain, it's enough to be seen carrying one. We're almost at the point where you could walk into any North American bar and shout, "Is there a ukulele in the house?" and someone could oblige.

You know, just in case you had a some cutesy song in your heart that needed to get out.

Now... I realize I live in a "tiny bubble" of whimsy called Portland, Oregon. I GET THAT. And that's what ukes are, whimsical. Oh GOD, they're so whimsical. Anyway, there may be an inordinate amount of ukulele fashionistas in this particular city. But does that excuse this ukelele Misfits cover done by Toronto ukelele cover band, The Fruity Ukuladies?! NO. Actually, you could probably search "ukulele cover" on youtube and pretty much see for yourselves, this ain't Portland's fault, this is a full blown, international epidemic.

I understand the appeal of the instrument, which is distinctly Hawaiian with roots in Portugal. It's small and therefore easily transportable. It has a small neck board and four strings, replacing much of the complexities of a standard guitar with a beautiful, simple, and accessible instrument, perfect for anyone who wants to flirt with being musical. There are also a variety of prices one could pay, the cheapest being around $30, an infinitesimal price that is very appealing. Even for $250, which might get you a not-so-good acoustic guitar, you could get a beautiful ukulele made from exotic woods.

My problem with the ukulele is more of a problem with whimsy in general. And as my brain seems more tuned to sound than any other sensory input, it's only natural that I attack that which is providing the soundtrack to the cute and whimsical. There are elements to this culture of whimsy which I admittedly subscribe to: I make wine and pickle vegetables, for example. But I also listen to music that doesn't have anything to do with being precious and/or coy. I am an adult. Keep those playful, quaint thumb-strummed ditties until either I have children or I'm 90 years old and shitting myself like one. When I'm drooling and toothless. THAT'S when you can bust out a ukulele.

But like I said, ukuleles are a symptom of a greater cultural virus, one that I believe has been spurned on by the cat memes, Zooey Deschanel, Wes Anderson movies, Arcade Fire, and the Adventure Time cartoon.

As I am at work and probably being spied on by my bosses, we'll have to explore this theme in future posts.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World (2014)

I don't know an awful lot about this band. What I do know, is that their Wikipedia page states that they are "a Canadian punk rock duo".

And once again, Wikipedia proves itself a harbinger of bullshit.

There's no way that this band is "punk rock". They are an overproduced band. Their music is more metal than punk, and the singing style has more in common with Motley Crue than it does the Sex Pistols.

This is radio ready, hard rock music. Yes they are a duo, and isn't that quaint and precious. But seriously? This is tripe. I wouldn't eat it if it were covered in pussy.

Waste your money here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ex Hex - Rips (2014)

Mary Timony has been around for a long time. If one was tuned to indie rock in the early 1990s, they’d surely have heard of at least one of the two bands she contributed to (Autoclave and Helium). 24 years into her career, she has had the time and talent to put out great records consistently, whether as part of a band or as a solo artist. 

Recently, she fronted the superband Wild Flag along with Sleater Kinney/Portlandia star, Carrie Brownstein. A flash in the pan, perhaps, as Ms. Timony has now formed a new band… a power pop, punk rock trio called Ex Hex (which was also the name of a 2005 solo record). Their debut record, Rips, does just that. The music on Rips is upbeat, fun, and has the attitude bands from early 1980s bands like The Buzzcocks or The Beat. It's no frills rock music… chugging instead of pirouetting, unpretentiously dishing up straightforward rock n’ roll without any garnish that might point to the fact that you're in the presence of one of underground rocks most talented guitar players.

You might say that going back to basics is a regression, as 2007 saw the release of the Mary Timony Band’s “The Shapes We Make”, a definitive high watermark for her, showcasing her growth as a songwriter and a simply awe-inspiring guitarist. Indeed, Rips seems almost like it should've been the very record by her very first band. It has a fresh exuberance one might attribute more to a 20 year-old musician, not a 44 year-old musician. But to me, and maybe I’m showing my age here, I think it’s an admirable step. 

Ex Hex is Timony showing she can wear any hat she wants as an artist. 

Ex Hex is kinda what I wanted Wild Flag to be … but wasn't ... and that makes it even better. I guess that’s one good thing about Portlandia popularity… it distracted Brownstein away from Wild Flag, allowing Ex Hex to rise from it’s ashes.

Pre-order and listen:

Ex Hex - Rips

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Laetitia Sadier - Something Shines (2014)

I have a brother, and my brother is still alive. French songwriter Laetitia Sadier, front woman of the glorious band Stereolab, had a sister .. who is now dead.

Look, Laetitia has been through a lot and understandably doesn't always want to make the bop-pop swingin' good times music that Stereolab makes all the time. She has experienced a severe loss. And rightly so, her sister still makes appearances in the lyrics of Laetitia's solo music.

On her latest solo record, Something Shines, there are lush orchestral arrangements. It also has Laetitia's iconic, clean, and unwarbling voice. And for those things, it's fine.

And I think it's important for artists to grow and to try new things. But Stereolab... I mean WOW. That band... sheesh. That's where Laetitia's talents ACTUALLY shine.

There just isn't anything here I want to listen to a second time. There is just too large a wonderful body of work, previous to this record, that warrants more immediate attention and, I'll put my joey on this, will stand the test of time (see Stereolab - Dots And Loops).

If I did attempt to listen to this record a second time, I'm afraid it'd make me a little Sadier, quite frankly.


Laetitia Sadier - Something Shines