Arcade Fire have been on an upward trajectory. From acclaimed indie band to the kind of genuinely popular act that fills arenas. Aside from the increasing fame, they’ve also gotten more creatively ambitious with each album. After the masterpiece that was Reflektor, can they continue to dial it up, or will they plateau? I’m about to test drive their new album Everything Now, and will get back to you with an update. In the meantime, enjoy a throwback to The Suburbs, which is the when I first got on board. I wasn’t quite on board when Arcade Fire first broke out, but I began catching on. So sue me if I tell you that I didn’t fully commit until David Bowie gave his blessing.
So many of the best early rock’n’roll songs were pure gibberish. The spirit of the music didn’t need words that made sense to make sense. The first rockers wrote silly words because they weren’t permitted to write the words the music brought to mind. Sex, obviously, sex and rebellion. But those things were implied, clearly enough that old people clutched their pearls and recoiled, while youths understood and responded accordingly. By tearing apart the fabric of decent society with their libidinous filth, of course. Here we are now, generations later, all decency long swept away by sexual freedom and miscegenation, our society in ashes. You can thank Little Richard.
Remember when everybody seemed to own at least one Cat Stevens album? Usually it was Tea for the Tillerman, but there were others and there was at least one in every stack of vinyl. It was a phenomenon. Cat Stevens himself no longer exists as such; he took a very very long sabbatical from the music industry before recently coming back as Yusuf Islam. Nonetheless, everybody still knows him and his hits, and despite some problematic things he’s said and done, everybody still loves his music. That’s partly because it’s hard to think of a more likable fellow, and mostly because Cat Stevens’ music is inoffensive and broadly appealing in the best possible way. We usually use the word inoffensive as a veiled insult, meaning that something is bland, toothless, stripped of any potential rough edges. In this case, inclusive might be a better word. Cat Stevens’ music is thoughtful and positive and aims to speak to everyone. The guy had the light of God on him way before he ever realized it.
John Cale is one of the few remaining luminaries whose lights are still on. He’s steadfastly been doing his thing with little regard to what’s trending, confident that his brand of challenging art rock exists outside the reach of trends. Though he may have a relatively small audience, he can also be confident that his music is a necessity to his fans in a way that more accessible artists’ may not be. In fact, the further we roll along in this fractured world, the more of a necessary relief it becomes to hear a consistently challenging and intellectual voice. A John Cale record isn’t what you’d call escapey funtime music, but it offers a singular point of view, which is in itself an escape. An escape from a pop culture where nobody seems to know what they’re aiming to be, besides popular. We want an artist who knows who he is and knows his own vision, just as much as we’re attracted to people who know who they are IRL.
ThouShaltNot is my little secret, apparently. I can’t quite recall how I discovered them (somewhere in the back alleys of the interwebs) but is certainly wasn’t through any old-school published media, and it wasn’t word of mouth. I don’t know anyone who’s heard of them. I’ve never read anything about them, not even a passing mention. Maybe they’re a figment of my imagination; it’s possible that in my fever dreams I would imagine an alt-goth post-punk band that time-traveled from the 80’s. The world’s not a fair place, as we know, and sometimes really talented people who deserve to become hugely famous – don’t.
There’s nothing more uplifting on a bleak day than some classic Motown. Some of the charm of revisiting vintage performances by groups like The Four Tops is the vintage-ness itself. The wholesome, smiling, nattily dressed singers on their empty TV soundstage, shaking a leg for the cameras – nobody performs like that anymore. They may look dated, but the sentiments and the music hasn’t aged. Love songs like this one stay evergreen because they are simple and from the heart. Suits fade. Great performances never do. Levi Stubbs was one of the great soul vocalists, and the soul he brought to what could’ve been just a silly pop song is what makes classic Motown…well, classic. And classy.
If you’re looking for some really good Fake Velvet Underground, look no further. Parquet Courts are the very best Fake Velvet Underground. Is this one of those underhanded compliments that’s actually an insult? No, it’s actually a real compliment, but I understand why you would ask that. Bands that try to emulate the Velvet Underground -just like would-be emulators of Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and other iconic musicians – are for the most part terrible, derivative, generic, cliche-ridden toothless imitators with no concept of what made the originals great in the first place. But I genuinely like Parquet Courts. They do remind me of the Velvet Underground, but they don’t sound like that’s the only reason they exist. I like the droning quality they’ve got going on; it’s sexy and seems like it would be great for doing some heroin. The whole atonal thing is so hard to pull off properly! Obviously, these guys are way dumber than the Velvets; their best known song is about shopping for snacks. Still, give them credit; there’s almost nothing trickier to pull off than evoking an iconic predecessor and yet still sounding like something original. Plus, they remind me of old flames who know way more about this punk rock thing than I do. Hallo, fuckboy.