Culture

A Song For Our Apocalypse

Editors have a new album. It's their sixth. And it's good. I would rank it as their fifth best in an overall strong and diverse discography. Yeah, Editors hold a special place in my heart. Their worst album, despite some poor arrangements and nods to Journey and Phil Collins, is still pretty good.  

I like 7 of the 9 tracks on the album. One song, No Sound But The Wind, was originally inspired by Cormac McCarthy's The Road. But it has gone through two different iterations.

The first recorded version was a demo that somehow made it onto the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack. You can see how it fits into a teen vampire romantic drama. Lyrics are below the video. 

We can never go home
We no longer have one
I'll help you carry the load
I'll carry you in my arms
The kiss of the snow
The crescent moon above us
Our blood is cold
And we're alone
But I'm alone with you

Help me to carry the fire
We will keep it alight together
Help me to carry the fire
It will light our way forever

If I say shut your eyes
If I say look away
Bury your face in my shoulder
Think of a birthday
The things you put in your head
They will stay here forever
Our blood is cold
And we're alone, love
But I'm alone with you

Help me to carry the fire
We will keep it alight together
Help me to carry the fire
It will light our way forever

Help me to carry the fire
We will keep it alight together
Now help me to carry the fire
It will light up our way forever

If I say shut your eyes
If I say shut your eyes
Bury me in suprise
Where I say shut your eyes

Help me to carry the fire
We will keep it alight together
Help me carry the fire
It will light our way forever

The band never formally recorded the song as it was originally written, with lyrics inspired by the premise of The Road. They started playing the original version live in 2010 and finally recorded it in 2017. But the world has changed quite a bit from 2010. And hearing this song for the first time in March 2018, I interpreted it as a song for a world with a broken EU and a US being driven into the ground by Donald Trump's GOP. It's a song for our Theresa May and Donald Trump apocalypse. Lyrics are below the video. 

We can never go home
We no longer have one
I'll help you carry the load
I'll carry you in my arms
We walk through the ash
And the charred remains of our country
Keep an eye on my back
I'll keep an eye on the road

Help me to carry the fire
To keep it alight together
Help me to carry the fire
This road won't go on forever

If I say shut your eyes
If I say look away
Bury your face in my shoulder
Think of a birthday
The things you put in your head
They will stay there forever
I'm trying hard to hide your soul, son
From things it's not meant to see

Help me to carry the fire
To keep it alight together
Help me to carry the fire
This road won't go on forever

Help me to carry the fire
To keep it alight together
Help me to carry the fire
This road won't go on forever

If I say shut your eyes
If I say shut your eyes
Bury me in surprise
When I say shut your eyes, eyes

Help me to carry the fire
To keep it alight together
Help me to carry the fire
This road won't go on forever

A Perfect Circle Came Back At The Perfect Time

Fourteen years. That's how long it has been since we've had an album from A Perfect Circle, the supergroup fronted by Tool's Maynard James Keenan. 

In 1999, Tool had released one EP and two studio albums for the decade, and there were strong indications that there wouldn't be new Tool material while the band was tied-up in record company contracts. So a side project from one of the greatest lead vocalists in rock was more than welcome. And while the lyrics in APC songs are not as complex or as profoundly pretentious as Tool songs, thunderous musicianship and atypical time signatures are still employed. Take their latest track, Talk Talk. It's an incredibly well-timed song about the uselessness of "thoughts and prayers," and has references to Christ that Keenan has done before. But what makes the song good is its use of the 3/4 time signature. Guitarist Billy Howerdel and company made the song ready for recording when they switched the tempo from 4/4 to 3/4.   

I thought this band was dead. I had forgotten that one of the greatest guitarists of the 1990s, James Iha, had joined A Perfect Circle in 2003. The 90s was a decade full of virtuoso guitarists, and I had simply assumed that the band would never record original songs with Iha. But then, in December 2017, this dark song dropped. A Perfect Circle had returned with dark tracks for these very dark times. I love The Doomed because, well, we are doomed. 

Keenan is having one of the busiest years of his life. The new APC album comes in April. He and his Tool bandmates are almost ready to record their fifth album (and first in twelve years). And he might be recording new tracks with his other side project, Puscifer, now. 

It's Still A Masculinity Crisis

Professor Sut Jhally wrote about it 18 years ago.

He spoke about it 8 years ago (above).

I wrote about it 11 years ago.

We got possibly the biggest reminder of it in world history last fall.

The world has a serious masculinity crisis. And in the US, that crisis is directly linked to its gun violence epidemic

Laura KIssel raised the topic again this week. And the comments prove two things. First, they strengthen her argument. And second, they prove we will never even try to address this crisis. Not even try. 

The gun violence epidemic in the United States is both a public health and a cultural crisis. Since I last raised this topic in 2007, the number of firearms in the US surpassed the number of living citizens. 100 million new guns. This is our crisis now and until the end of this broken republic. 

This Little Blog is 10 Years Old

Five days ago, this blog turned 10. I have several posts getting cold in draft status. So I will just mark 10 years similar to the way I started the blog - with a music video.

Aesop Rock dropped the best rap album of 2016 about a year ago. The second track, Rings, can be used to sum-up up my lack of productivity on this blog pretty well. Hobbies slip.

I could describe a couple of posts in-progress the way Aesop describes his unfinished paintings:

Then a week goes by and it goes untouched
Then two, then three, then a month
And the rest of your life, you beat yourself up

More posts soon. 2017 will have more than double the number of posts that 2016 had.

Just What Was Tom Smith Thinking?

The stages of finding the first bad song by one of my favorite bands:

1. A grandiose breakup song. Okay.

2. Sustained falsetto. That's....different.

3. Holy shit, it's a Journey song!

4. But it's got a hook. Play it again. And again.

5. Singing along is actually possible, and fun, so long as you act sincere.

6. Oh hell, this is a cheesy Phil Collins song!

7. Some country band could cover this and make it a smash country hit. Just maybe.

Goodbye, R.E.M.

I've had two weeks to digest R.E.M.'s inevitable breakup announcement. I have to say, they went out with class. While they lost of lot of listeners after New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996), the last four R.E.M. albums were all very good. They were true to the band's roots, involved a fresh dose of Brian Wilson influences, and a few times went back to the sound of perhaps their most loved album, Automatic for the People (1992).

R.E.M. spent over 10 years as a consensus choice as one of the best rock bands in the US. They shared that title with other acts that have come and gone, including Talking Heads, The Pixies, Living Colour, Soundgarden, Metallica, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Luna (and some that have stayed, such as Wilco and Interpol). They were not only one of the best bands in the US, but they were also part of the New Wave. They entered the scene thanks to airplay on American college radio alongside the likes of Talking Heads and U2. And they were simultaneously part of the Athens Georgia music scene, which, along with Boston, Chicago, and Seattle, is a founding city of the Indie music scene of the 1980s and 90s (later to be branded "Alternative" by the music industry). R.E.M. is one of the few bands (the only band?) to bridge the New Wave movement and the American Indie movement, and arguably helped to found the Indie movement. While their Athens counterparts, the B-52s, remained in the New Wave movement, R.E.M. established the framework of how a small band from a college town could get radio airplay nationwide and music videos on MTV. In just four short years, R.E.M. went from having a critically acclaimed, yet underground album (Murmur (1983)), to a breakthrough video on MTV in September, 1987 for The One I Love:

I entered high school with Document, graduated college weeks after drummer Bill Berry suffered a ruptured aneurysm on atage (and bought a Georgia farm in preparation for his retirement), and firmly settled into New York to the sounds of New Adventures in Hi-Fi. I rocked out in my dorm room to the contemporary, distortion pedal sounds of Monster (1994) and enjoyed drinks in a bar in north Amherst with friends and the occasional female to the sounds of the honest, somber masterpeice, Automatic for the People.

There have been magnificent articles and books written about R.E.M. I close this post with some recent articles I've read in the past few years.

 Josh Modell, Spin:

Here, [in Collapse Into Now], they discover the glow of middle age, warmly acknowledging the past -- hello again, Peter Buck's mandolin -- while realizing that the present can feel just as comforting. The sober, pretty "Uberlin" sounds like a happier cousin to "Drive." Twinkling ballad "Every Day Is Yours to Win" updates "Everybody Hurts" for the other side of despair, when optimism seeps back in. "Discoverer" and "All the Best" deliver sexy crunch for Monster fans. It's R.E.M.'s many faces, collapsing into now.

Annie Zaleski, Salon:

Even as the band’s popularity increased — Top 10 Billboard hits, MTV heavy rotation, arena tours, mainstream radio airplay — there was nothing overtly contemporary about their music.

 Chris Sullentrop, Slate:

From almost the beginning, there's been something backward-looking about R.E.M. fandom, a secret wish that R.E.M. never become more than a heralded but middling-selling college band from Athens, Ga.—even though such obscurity would mean that the vast majority of R.E.M. fans engaged in this Edenic pining would never have discovered them.

 Dan Kois, Slate:

Even R.E.M.'s "political" songs of the era, like "Fall on Me" or "Exhuming McCarthy," are tricky to parse. " Fall on Me" could maybe be about acid rain, or maybe air pollution in general, or maybe, uh, missile defense? Whereas U2's political songs of the 1980s are a little easier to work out: "Pride (In the Name of Love)" is about Martin Luther King Jr., for example, and "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is about Bloody Sunday. Stirring as those songs are, there's very little a listener can bring to them; they are Bono's take, not yours, unlike "Fall on Me," which, for me, in 1987, was a deeply personal song about the crushing whatever of existence.