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by John Grassi

17 Nov 2010


It’s almost impossible to imagine Bruce Springsteen’s predicament back in 1977. Two years earlier, Springsteen and the E Street Band released the epic Born to Run, arguably the greatest rock album of all time. The record had everything: great hooks on every track, lyrical beauty, and in its two cornerstone pieces, “Backstreets” and “Jungleland”, a sweeping operatic majesty. The album was mythic urban romance writ large. But after that big noise, silence. A lawsuit from the band’s manager, Mike Appel, prevented Springsteen from recording for close to three years, an eternity in the ‘70s music industry. By 1978, Springsteen was the invisible man in American music.

The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town is a documentary of Springsteen and the E-Street Band recording their 1978 album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, the crucial follow-up to Born to Run (for brevity and clarity, I’ll refer to the documentary as The Promise and the album as simply Darkness). The stakes are remarkably high and the film is reminiscent of the Beatles’ Let It Be, as we glimpse a band under the pressure of expectations. Darkness is a flawed album, and The Promise reveals why. Back in the studio after years of exile, Springsteen is determined to make an album that reflects the betrayal and disappointment of the last three years. The documentary shows Springsteen and the E-Street band in the studio, banging out song after song, take after take. It’s fascinating to see Springsteen and his band mates at the zenith of their powers.

by Colin McGuire

16 Nov 2010


Jake Gyllenhaal better have thick skin, and it’s not just because Brothers wasn’t nearly as good of a movie as it should have been.

Actually, it’s because his latest muse—the “whenever a relationship I’m in ends, and I’m mad, I write about it” singer/songwriter Taylor Swift—recently did the one thing I, along with most of the other geeks who follow this kind of stuff with pertinent attention, never thought would be done again: she sold a million copies of her latest release, Speak Now, in its first week.

Swift has long been a curious case for me. I was admittedly resistant of her success when she first found her way onto the charts. I then fell completely head over heels for her when I stumbled across her performance of “Fifteen” with Miley Cyrus at the Grammy Awards nearly two years ago. Now? Well, now, she just kind of exits within my own personal musical orbit, at this point not really warranting an emotion either way.

I will always find her shtick endearing, but that’s mostly because I’m probably a 16-year-old girl at heart. She writes her own songs (though I’ve never truly believed such a statement, even when it’s insisted upon). She seems to prefer performing with a guitar strapped across her torso more than she does, say, performing with two free hands and a slew of dancers behind her. She sings about heartbreak (and who doesn’t love that?). It appears as though she’s nice enough, constantly willing to sign autographs, and making appearances and granting interviews basically whenever she’s asked. She killed it on Saturday Night Live with a spot-on Shakira impersonation. And she loves vinyl. And if you love vinyl, I love you.

So it’s clear that she’s someone I find myself rooting for, regardless of how “cool” or “uncool” it may be for a 26-year-old dude to partake in such activities. All of that now considered, though, the entire notion of her achieving such a feat as selling a million records in a week utterly transcends any preconceived notion one may have of the singer/songwriter. I mean, my goodness.

by Corey Beasley

15 Nov 2010


“Heart Cooks Brain,” the second track on Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West, reveals the band’s rhythmic genius, the strength of many of its finest compositions. Drummer Jeremiah Green has always been an integral component of the band’s success (which is why it was so distressing to many fans to see him momentarily depart for personal reasons circa the 2004 album Good News for People Who Love Bad News). Here, Green lays down a stuttering, hip-hop influenced breakbeat backbone for frontman Isaac Brock’s spiraling guitar work and cyclical lyrics. Yes, that’s even a bit of turntable scratching you hear in the distant reaches of the mix. That subtle bit of atmospherics—combined with Green’s head-nodding beat—hints at the musical eclecticism that marks the Modest Mouse catalog.

Still, slight genre-blurring aside, “Heart Cooks Brain” finds its place cemented squarely in the center of Modest Mouse’s songbook. A Brock riff that scales up and down the neck: check. Imagistic lyrics about despair and loneliness: check. A tight rhythm section enviable to any other band playing music: check. The song opens with—as any superfan would hope for—some harmonics, with Brock yelling a few feet away from his microphone, “A slow walk / It’s landmines”. Other than that moment of increased volume, Brock and his band keep things toned down here. It works: “Heart Cooks Brain” is about yearning, absence, and the dullness of depression, and the band’s right to play it close to the chest.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

12 Nov 2010


Klinger: Well, Mendelsohn, this marks the third double album in a row here at Counterbalance. Once again, the rockist love for the grandiose statement carries the day. Are you feeling fatigued? Aggravated? A little too eager to drop the word “sprawling” into the mix?

Mendelsohn: There are so many different ways I could go with this but for right now, I’m going to stay on topic: I’m sick of the double disc. Also, “sprawl” is a great vocab choice. I’m going to use it in a sentence. The Clash’s London Calling is an epic, sprawling disc that will leave you sprawled out on the floor as your mind tries to wrap itself around the sprawl of genres this British band touches on in the course of an hour plus. That last use of “sprawl” might be a bit questionable, but I challenge you to use it in one sentence three times.

My problem with double albums is that they go on too long. While my writing may not always reflect the following statement, I’m a firm believer that if you can say something in three words, there is no reason to write an entire paragraph. I think the same thing applies to music. If you had sent London Calling to the chopping block and came back with a solid 40-minute record, would it be any less great?

Klinger: Sure, you could make a brilliant 40-minute album out of the tracks on London Calling. But then it wouldn’t be London Calling. I’d be hard pressed to find a wasted moment on the album.

Would The Godfather have been better without that whole bit where Michael goes to Sicily? I reckon it depends on what you’re trying to do. If you’re looking to get from Point A to Point B, then you need to keep the plot moving. But at their best, double albums can be as much about the journey as the destination.

by Jake Cleland

11 Nov 2010


A couple of days ago, I was chatting with this girl over beers about indie music. She was telling me that indie has gone from a philosophy to just a loosely defined category, and I realised the same thing happened with punk music. When I tried to tell her this, she told me she had no idea what punk music was. Needless to say, the date went poorly after that, but on the train ride home I started thinking: is indie the new punk?

First, we have to start with a definition. Indie literally refers to a band that records, produces, and releases its material outside the major label cabal, so already from that definition you can see how close it is, ideologically, to punk. You probably have a slightly different definition, but I transposed this one from what is traditionally agreed makes a film indie, though in both cases we know there are more elements. Twilight is technically an indie film, but when you think of indie films, you’d have a hard time putting it next to Brick or Clerks or whatever your favourite indie film is, yet they’re all still independently produced.

In 1975, the youth of the two greatest cities of the Western world, London and New York City, were trying to reconnect with rock’s new spirit. Their solution was punk. The music was loud, fast, and aggressive, but also simple. In a 1995 interview, Joey Ramone of the Ramones said “We wanted the kids to feel they could go out and do this too.” The kids felt isolated, but they had a lot to say, and now they had the avenue to say it. This accessibility was lost by the time the ‘80s rolled around. The three chords that were the backbone of punk were replaced with complicated solos and greater emphasis on technical aptitude. The elitism was restored to music. Then came the Millennials. Told they could do anything, that they were all delicate little snowflakes, unique, filled with potential, they ignored the obstacles and the unreality of becoming a famous musician and took up instruments anyway.

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