pavement

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In The Trenches

I panicked a week before appearing on this blog. Monday night, I was lying in the dark, restless, and a few friends were playing parodistic versions of Pearl Jam songs outside my door on an out-of-tune acoustic guitar, nailing that Eddie Vedder deep warble with drunk gumption. “Jeremy” had never sounded so College Humor.
The soft strumming reminded me. An acoustic guitar. Crap. OWOB starts next week.

I panicked, and almost emailed our dear editor Hendrik to say that no, no I couldn’t do this. Or, could I do this for another band? Could I sub in at the last minute? Hey, I might know more about the band Meneguar than any person who lived in Brooklyn in 2006. I’m also a legendary K Records enthusiast. Land of Talk, Weird Korea, The Raincoats, Will Smith, anyone. I just couldn’t write about The Dodos for reasons that now seem silly, shallow even.

A few months ago, when pitching with great panache a feature interview with The Dodos for the magazine I edit, I had had a revelation—what if the band that you took to early on in your musical development has now lost their cultural cache? What if, in a historically post-ironic period in culture, your admiration falls short of being either ironic or hip, simply true? I imagine a lot of Ween fans feel his way, but deny it. (I kid—kind of.) The Dodos, with the acoustic guitar as their weighted albatross, haven’t been a “cool band to like” for some time, due in large part to the waning popularity of the acoustic guitar. Garage rock and all of its forms—pure and diluted—continues to reign, a return to the deep, dark days of the 90s pushing us all forward while also holding us back. What kind of position was I in to talk about indie-cum-mainstream, San Francisco-based psych-ish freakfolk with the acoustic guitar at its sturdy center? It seemed misguided, out of tune. (Heh.)

Here is where I sidebar myself to say that coolness is completely subjective and unbelievably irrelevant.

The Dodos continue to effect the way I see songwriting, listen to music, and feel feelings with every record and song they put out. And I hope you’re ready to walk through that with me, coolness or buzz be damned. Here are some cursory notes I took last week, if you’re looking for a preview of what’s to come. In a sea of Nirvana foils and Pavement tribute bands, The Dodos still continue to surprise me.

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Track

"They Ran"/"The Bear" - My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket - The Tennessee Fire

{Press play above and then start reading!}

We’re spinning back six years to the beginning of My Morning Jacket today and highlighting the 1999 release of The Tennessee Fire, the group’s first studio full length release. On the whole, this album contains songs that lean closer to straight up alt-country, and at first pass sound much less polished than those found on Z.  While the distinction is obvious when heard in direct comparison, stop to think about this release in the context of the late 90s and the lo-fi fuzz makes sense. The cracks and pops heard on the tracks due to the analog tape machines and live recording add character and show off the instrumental production done by the ever-eager Jim James. 

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This was the initial incarnation of My Morning Jacket, a quartet of friends from Louisville who got together and started recording any where they found space. Johnny Quaid, the original guitar player, hosted the band on the Quaid family farm, with J. Glenn on drums, and Jim James and Tom Blankenship rounding it out. The wide open spaces they tracked in are forever imprinted on the recording, and there are definite Pavement and other indie influences winding their way throughout the songs.

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With the longest tune *only* stretching to 5:07, there are just the faintest hints of where the band might eventually evolve.  Even so, The Tennessee Fire holds its own in the My Morning Jacket catalog, with several high points: “Evelyn Is Not Real” and “Heartbreakin Man” are two standout tracks. 

Embedded above are tracks 2 and 3, “They Ran” and “The Bear” (which starts at 3:40 in). These mark some of  one of the first time the world heard James’ soaring vocals, utilizing the tones of his voice as an instrument to convey feelings and emotions more than words.

There’s still time, for you,

to change your mind or whatever else you do. 

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Although I tend put little to no stock in P4k ratings, I’ll put this here just in case: the album received a stellar 8.0/10 there.

Like Malkmus always says now, ‘well your lyrics are all perfect, you try’, because we’re like competitors, ‘your lyrics are great and everything, David, but you know what, lyrics to me are not important, they’re just an afterthought’ and to me what he’s really saying is he used to be good at doing it and he’s not that good at it anymore. There was a time in history when I think he was great and now that same writing style comes off as flippant, it’s just not nourishing sounding to me and I tell him that. I tell him, ‘why in the world, I’m like your best friend, so why in the world when you make a record don’t you spend 500 bucks and send me a plane ticket to come out to Portland and listen to what you’re about to put on tape forever and let me make some suggestions because I can tell you that this and this and this isn’t working here and you’re doing yourself damage.’

David Berman, in re: Stephen Malkmus’s slacker lyricism (or lack thereof)

The Natural Bridge is the first Silver Jews album without Stephen Malkmus. In many, many interviews, people in and around the Silver Jews note that Malkmus is a gifted musician (duh), a great guitarist (duh), and just adds this general aristocratic sheen to any recordings he’s on (duh?).

There is, however, something of an antipathy between Malkmus and Berman. You can see it in the quote above, for instance. I can picture Berman and Malkmus talking on the phone one night, maybe right after the S/T album or maybe after Wowee Zowee.

Berman: Steve, what the fuck are you even singing about? It doesn’t make any sense.

Malkmus: I just pick random words. It doesn’t matter.

Berman: But, Steve. Lyrics are half of what a song is. Just pay the five hundred or whatever… God knows you’ve got enough money. Just fly me out to the studio and I’ll tell you when your shit sucks, and -

Malkmus: I’ve gotta go fuck Justine Frischmann. Good bye.

Hah, I don’t know. Probably uncharitable. But it seems somewhat obvious 1) that Malkmus didn’t set out to be a rock star, but 2) he did, and was fine with it, and 3) Berman, by mental hook or chemical crook, did not become a rock star. It’s not like Pavement lyrics are stupid or Malkmus isn’t a brilliant songwriter. But there’s a definite difference in style and approach Berman and Malkmus. And it’s a definite fact that the whole “Silver Jews are a Pavement/Malkmus side project” stuck in Berman’s craw for many years. I’d be bitter.

Fifteen Outrageous Things About David Berman and/or the Silver Jews (Only Ten of Which May Be True)

  1. The title for Pavement’s celebrated debut, Slanted and Enchanted came from a strange cartoon thing-y that Dave Berman drew and hung up in the apartment.
  2. Malkmus and Berman actually became friends with each other sharing a ride in college to see The Cure in concert. (Though how great of friends they are is debatable.)
  3. From that same piece linked above (and elsewhere), the Joos got Sonic Youth’s phone number from a record store clerk, and they’d call up their answering machine and leave ten minute-long songs on it.
  4. Berman saw a picture of Cassie Marrett playing music in a magazine, got a “heavy feeling”, set out to meet her, and married her. Cassie Berman is an A+ Gold Level Silver Jew now.
  5. The father of Dave Berman (noted liberal artist type) is Richard Berman, a reviled lobbyist, about whom Dave sez, “My father is a despicable man. My father is a sort of human molestor. An exploiter. A scoundrel. A world historical motherfucking son of a bitch. (sorry grandma)”.
  6. One of Dave Berman’s dream projects was to record with Dave Matthews Band.
  7. It’s true: Berman’s analyst was a place kicker for the Falcons.
  8. The original title for American Water was The Late, Great Silver Jews. The present title occurred to Berman when he was sitting in a veterinary shop and he saw a poster with an American water spaniel on it; he loved the phrase “American water”, and wanted it to be his.
  9. Back stage in London, Berman went to Frank Black’s dressing room and asked him to produce his next album. When Black reacted like a “total bitch”, Berman threw a CD at his head. This got him arrested for assault. (But only British assault, so who knows.)
  10. When Berman tried to commit suicide, he put on his nicest suit, and ended up at the Loews Vanderbilt, the nicest hotel in Nashville, where Al Gore sweated out the Florida recount in 2000. He shambled up to the desk and said, “Give me the Al Gore suite,” where he proceeded to die.
  11. In 27 years, David Berman drank 50,000 beers.
  12. In 1984, David Berman was hospitalized for approaching perfection.
  13. 17 doctors couldn’t decide if David Berman should be allowed in the game.
  14. David Berman passed out on the 14th floor, and the CPR was so erotic.
  15. David Berman knew a puppy who walked from Kentucky to east Virginia by dawn.

Pavement - ‘Unseen Power of the Picket Fence’

Not only a song about Reckoning, but one that makes ‘harborcoat’ sound like a common aside and shares my own conclusion on the album - “‘Time After Time’ was my least favorite song/’Time After Time’ was my least favourite song”. Not most worst, but least favourite of a list of favourites.