Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tomorrow, this Wye Oak interview feature I wrote will appear in the Orlando Weekly. Wye Oak are from Baltimore, and are all kinds of awesome.

One doesn’t automatically expect level-headed pragmatism from the young. At the tender age of 23, Jenn Wasner already has it. The Wye Oak singer-guitarist is possessed of the sort of realist’s worldview that most don’t arrive at until staring down the barrel of 30 – or sadly waving it goodbye. In a phone interview, Wasner tempers her ebullient chatter with the sobered gravitas of an indie-rock lifer. She’s sitting on her porch in Baltimore a few days before leaving on tour, enthusing over the wedding band she put together for the nuptials of the brother of her Wye Oak partner and boyfriend, Andy Stack, and gushing over B’more underground pals like “miniature, nature-oriented” folkie Small Sur and rapper Height.

“When Andy and I work, I work at a restaurant, and Andy’s family is in the film business, so he freelances film stuff. He’s the lowest guy on the totem pole … working the sound, fetching people from the airport, getting coffee – which is nice,” she says. “We both kind of [scramble] and scrounge for money as we can. We’re getting to a point where we’re making the majority of our money from music stuff, and I think that’s because we’re a duo; we have low overhead.”

That “music stuff” – two Merge-issued albums, 2008’s If Children and this year’s The Knot – has transformed Wasner and Stack into indie-rock demigods. The pair’s nuanced yet explosive songwriting recalls the noisy napalm of early Yo La Tengo even as it touches on sweet-and-sour folk and folds in reams of autumnal strings. Like so many other rock greats, Wye Oak surreptitiously couch bad vibes in triumphant tuneage. If Children explored rocky family dynamics and prematurely aged psyches, while The Knot finds Wye Oak wading through scarier, more foreboding territory than before, daring to write the kind of dark, dusky love and life songs endemic to their elders. Smoky, heart-wrenching ballad “That I Do” diagrams painful lovers’ disconnects; “For Prayer” eases slowly in and out of an epic spat. Ironically, given the subject matter, Knot finds the pair at its most creatively integrated, Wasner says.

“[If Children] was an individual endeavor. We had songs we’d written separately over three years,” says Wasner. “‘Family Glue’ I wrote when I was 17, and had it kicking around. On most of the Knot songs, lyrics and tunes are me but the arrangements are very collaborative. It was interesting because I’ve always been very private with lyrics, but I felt a lot more comfortable reaching out to Andy for help finishing a thought or a tune.”

If Knot has a centerpiece, it’s undoubtedly “Siamese,” a lullaby-like amble of weeping violins, caressing guitar figures and ambivalently delivered intimations like “Don’t look back/Hit him right between the eyes,” “’Cause if you leave and I lose you/I lose my life and lose you, too” and “You couldn’t scare me if you tried/Because I’m ready to die tonight.” It’s difficult to say whether “Siamese” represents the last will and testament of a Brave One–style vigilante or a lunatic’s declaration of undying love. Either way, the track is deeply resonant in a way that no other Wye Oak song has been up to now – on par with Radiohead’s haunting “A Wolf at the Door.”

“A lot of people hear the arrangement and strings and think, ‘Oh, this is fun.’ I like to hide things, to shroud them,” laughs Wasner. “‘Siamese’ is one of the happiest-sounding songs, and lyrically, the darkest. I think the urge was to temper light with darkness. I live in Hampden and I work at a restaurant near my house, and I find myself walking home with tip money, trying not to get raped or mugged. ‘Siamese’ captures the sense of being so out of it, cerebrally, that I no longer care what happens to me – which is a shitty place to be.”
Something I wrote about the Queers.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hoffman & Hoffman, back in biz and on the job at a Sunny Day Real Estate show. Makes me feel downright nostalgic, you know? Ah, for the days of zines and roses. And malt liquor. I never "got" SDRE, I guess, though I did hear a few songs on mixtapes during college and my set were big fans. (Don't ask me to hum 'em. You will be horribly let down.) All I really knew about 'em was that the frontman freaked out and became a Christian fanatic at one point and broke up the band, and that a couple members played with The Foo Fighters at one point or another. Oh, and they helped invent emo, which is a pretty big deal, I'm told.

Only got two SDRE-related memories:

- Dropping by one of Thom's first post-college pads with Matty Kory, and Matty having the How It Feels To Be Something On CD, which had just come out, and thinking that the artwork for that album was without doubt the most fucked up, nightmarish thing I'd ever encountered to that point. Seriously, drop acid and just stare at that thing for a while. Better yet, don't.

- Going to an SDRE show in, I guess, 2000 with Matty and someone we'll call The Cop-Out Kid from now on. Thing is, I recall, like, nothing about that show except that we attended it outside of Philly and that I ran into some dude who had been marching in a street protest I was covering for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader a few weeks earlier. I'd interviewed him. I don't remember what he told me, but it was quotable, so I quoted him. Anyway, we said hi and exchanged some pleasantries, then we all went in to watch the show I can't remember.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

As part of its Big Books Issue this week, the Baltimore City Paper included a collaborative piece titled "The Storyteller: 27 Writers on 27 Short Stories from 27 Authors." Below is my entry:

Bret Easton Ellis, "Discovering Japan" from The Informers (Vintage, 1994)

Set in 1984, "Discovering Japan" follows aging rock 'n' roll Godzilla Bryan Metro during a several-day tour sojourn in the titular country, through bouts of groupie abuse, drug binges, darkly comedic business meetings, and varying degrees of penthouse suite desecration. Metro's core tragedy? Chemically fried, he exists in a bewildered, Neanderthal stupor that leaves him socially and emotionally impotent, stripping him of the ability to recognize that his nursemaid-cum-enabler-cum-manager is casually robbing him blind. The act of one man adjusting another's sunglasses has never seemed quite so sinister.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


From today’s Clevescene:

The Blueprint 3
(Roc Nation/Atlantic)

Invincibility is the pot of gold at the end of hip-hop's proverbial rainbow, the brass ring every rising MC aspires to seize. Jay-Z has had it for the better part of a decade: consistent album sales, unimpeachable crossover appeal, a decent if unspectacular run as president of Def Jam, marriage to modern R&B's flyest multimedia diva and fashion bona fides by way of Rocawear and special-edition Nikes. Since 2002's The Blueprint 2, dispatches from Hovito's penthouse have scanned as victory-lap variations — affirmations of his cultural and financial dominance, and the monied musings of a rap don intent on keeping his legend alive and vital in a marketplace flooded with mixtape-slinging whippersnappers and biters.
"Thank You" establishes a swank Vegas issuance that harkens back to 2007's American Gangster both in tone and ad libs before Jay-Z snaps into an elaborate 9/11 riff that demonstrates why he's king: "Not only did they brick, they put a building up as well/They ran a plane into that building, and when that building fell/Ran to the crash site with no masks, and inhaled/Toxins deep into they lungs until both of them was felled." On "Hate," Jay and Kanye West trade the mic in haughty, needle-sharp disgust, while "Off That" finds Hova breathing new, nimble life into the ahead-of-his-time song with renaissance new jack Drake. Throughout, Jay sounds relaxed, revitalized, even hungry. Wide-ranging, forward-thinking beats from his usual stable of top-shelf producers amplify all the frankly reiterative fun he's having here.
I know, I know: another online mixtape no more than 8 people have time/desire to listen to. And it has eight songs on it! Synergy.