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by AJ Ramirez

4 Dec 2009

In 1994, alternative rock ruled rock music.  At the time, some in the music press occasionally remarked that punk rock had finally “won” due to the mainstream breakthrough of alternative bands like Nirvana, but that ignored the fact that as a genre alt-rock had long ago become a distinct form from its progenitor. Sure, alt-rock retained punk’s do-it-yourself ethos and its disdain for the iconography and excesses of mainstream music, but anyone who was familiar with the sound of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols (a sound that continued to breed and develop in places throughout the world such as Berkeley, California’s Gilman Street scene) sure wasn’t going to find it replicated by Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins, or Nine Inch Nails. While some called 1991 “the year punk broke” (a term based on a widely misinterpreted reading of the title to a Sonic Youth concert video), the music press quickly had to shift the headlines a bit when in 1994 punk truly claimed a victory on the pop charts after over a decade of hiding underground. Green Day’s Dookie was primarily responsible for this turn of events, and it all started with the album’s first single, “Longview”.

Like many compositions on Dookie, “Longview” features a character that’s unsatisfied with his life. While Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has at various points indicated an affinity for crafting characters to inhabit in his lyrics, the jaded slacker at the center of this song is undeniably a distorted version of Armstrong himself. Explaining the inspiration for the track during a 2002 interview with Guitar World, Armstrong said, “I guess it was just living in the suburbs in a sort of shit town where you can’t even pull in a good radio station. I was living in Rodeo, California, about 20 minutes outside of Oakland. There was nothing to do there, and it was a real boring place.” Armstrong stated that feelings of “loneliness and isolation” form the core of the tune. He commented, “I think everyone has felt those things, either right at this moment or at some point in the past.”

What sets the narrator of “Longview” apart from the other characters that populate Dookie is the utter disgust he harbors for his situation. Reflecting on the period that inspired the song, Armstrong told Rolling Stone, “I really didn’t care—for a time I was wallowing in my own misery and liking it. The lyrics wrote themselves.” However, the final product doesn’t contain any sense of contentment.  In “Longview”, Armstrong is plainly sick of sitting around all day doing nothing but watching television, smoking pot, and playing with himself, but can’t be bothered to do anything about it, which in turn bugs him even more. It’s a cycle he can’t escape, and his self-loathing is palpable with every emphasized curse word and lyrics like “I’m sick of all the same old shit / In a house with unlocked doors / And I’m fucking lazy”. Even the baser pleasures have lost their appeal, as he explains in the classic line “When masturbation’s lost its fun / You’re fucking breaking.”

by Kieran Curran

3 Dec 2009

The Feelies are a band which seem to defy classification even today. Through not being part of any “scene” as such, they followed their own idiosyncratic muses, incorporating influences both typical for alternative bands of their time (Velvet Underground, The Modern Lovers) and atypical (classical minimalism, incorporating found object sounds in their records). Coming out of the suburban village of Haledon, New Jersey in the late 1970s, the band were ensconced with their record collections and jamming with friends in garages, punctuated by occasional trips to the big city to see bands. Without the strictures of a set scene or predefined sound, however, they were able to dip into New York without ever being immersed in it, free to do what they liked, unencumbered by generic expectations or localized trends.

Almost 30 years after their first record (the seminal Crazy Rhythms) was released, the Feelies are, like so many bands of the post-punk era, on the reunion circuit, backed by the reissuing of their first two albums. The crowds they play to are aware of their music through the diversions of the rock canon, through downloading and a general tendency towards retrospection amongst modern music listeners. With the plethora of music easily accessible online, fans are more and more aware of the interrelatedness of music, and the reference points that bands make. If you’re doing it, chances are someone in the past has done it already, whether you know it or not (and the knowingness is quite likely). A current band that makes explicit its debt to its influences from the indie rock canon, Times New Viking, namechecks members of its favorite groups (the Clean, the Fall, Pavement) on its MySpace, as well as referencing Yo La Tengo in a song which sounds very like Yo La Tengo.

by Sean Murphy

2 Dec 2009

I’m so proud of my Pops.

Last night, quite out of the blue (or, out of the black, as the case may be), he said he had to ask me a “technical question.”

I braced myself, prepared to disappoint him. A “technical” question had to mean he was going to ask about computers, and I would have to remind him that, despite working closely with them for almost two decades, I probably know less about the inner workings and mechanics of these things than the average ten year old.

To my considerable relief, it was a question about music.

To my considerable delight, it was a question about Black Sabbath.

by Beth Greaves

1 Dec 2009

I will admit it. One of my guiltiest guilty pleasures is The X Factor. It is essentially the British version of American Idol. It is awful, but I love it.

When it was announced that the 2008 winner would sing a cover of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”, I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse.

It just did.

It has been announced that the 2009 winner will sing a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”.

I could not believe my ears.

When I eventually believed them, I wanted to eat them in a fit of pure, undiluted fury.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” is one of my favorite songs. I am against cover versions in (almost) every shape and form. The original is the best. Unless you can do something imaginative with the original (listen to Taken by Trees’ version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, for example), then leave it as it is. There is nothing about The X Factor that could possibly be considered original. Take it from someone who knows.

I could list all the things that are wrong with this choice, but I will start with the most obvious. One: the original version is brilliant and you should never mar brilliance. Two: why not pick an original song for the winner? At least then it can stand as a song in its own right. Can they not afford songwriters in this poor economic climate? Three: one of the contestants, an admittedly talented guy named Joe, already sang this song (and is favored to win, apparently). Does anything scream favoritism louder than that?

I will end this post with a solemn plea. Please buy the original version of “Don’t Stop Believin’” from iTunes during the week before Christmas. In the name of good taste, good music and all that is holy, buy “Don’t Stop Believin’”. Please.

by Kirstie Shanley

1 Dec 2009

Sweden’s darling Anna Ternheim has been creating music since 2004 and has released four studio albums filled with songs that seem deeply personal and walk the line between folk and pop music.  She possesses an adeptness for song compositions that don’t leave the listener wanting for even a moment.  Though she chooses to back them up with the guitar rather than the piano, her lyrics sometimes recall the soft femininity of fellow Swede Frida Hyvönen.

It seemed effortless to have a conversation with Ternheim about everything from the music community right now in Sweden, to the sensational vampiric novel and film Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In).  As one might expect, she comes off both as a strong and intelligent woman.  She ran into a bit of trouble on the way to our interview and her October 10th show at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago, as the van she was sharing with Emil Svanängen of Loney Dear broke down, forcing her to take a special flight just to make the event. But she made it clear she wasn’t going to let the stress get to her or effect her live performance. What follows is a condensed version of our chat about her music, her live shows, and life as a Swedish musician.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

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