Living on your own can be tough – there will be weeks when you have to decide between food, alcohol or art supplies, because you sure as hell can’t afford it all. You may find yourself working your butt off at multiple jobs, struggling to pay rent and constantly worrying about one of the cockroaches in your shoddy apartment complex crawling into the bottom of your laundry basket. Through it all, you should know you are not alone. You can find some solace to your dejection in the following songs.
This song epitomizes the moment when you find yourself unselfconsciously paying for a 40 oz beer with pocket change. With the chorus of “I drink cheap beer / so what / fuck you,” FIDLAR (which stands for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s a Risk”) shouts what every 20-something is thinking during that particular sloshed and turbulent instance. The music video features FIDLAR running around parties, knocking fancy beers out of the hands of other party-goers and causing a general ruckus — a fundamental anthem for the crust punks, indeed.
2. Andrew Jackson Jihad
People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in
the World (2007)
Andrew Jackson Jihad’s folk-punk hymn of bittersweet truth and human flaws is a quintessential listen for someone in a place of self-reflection. Trying to figure out where you are in the world and what any of this means can be tough, and this Andrew Jackson Jihad album is an earnest way to get through those introspective periods. “Survival Song” will guide you through your misshapen dreams towards honesty and acknowledgment; we all screw up and we can all get better.
3. Daniel Johnston
“The Story of An Artist”
The Story of An Artist (2010)
Johnston’s brutally realistic story of the struggle of being an artist while also surviving both financially and socially offers insight into the artist’s battle with his or her family, friends and, in Johnston’s case, his mental health. The sympathy that Johnston offers listeners with melancholy lyrics is so potent that in your sadness you will at least feel a little less alone.
4. The Mountain Goats
The Sunset Tree (2005)
“The Sunset Tree” was an album that helped me get through both high school and college. Throughout, frontman John Darnielle sings tales of optimism from a pessimist’s point of view, verbalizing the anguish and awkwardness of growing up. Singing about escaping reality, breaking free when you are still discovering who you are, and the occasional pointlessness of youthful relationships, “This Year” is one of the standout tracks on the album. Through his lyrics, Darnielle finds a way to relive and reevaluate his past from a very personal point of view that puts the listener in his position.
5. Built to Spill
“You Were Right”
Keep it Like a Secret (1999)
“You Were Right” tells a tale of the hypocrisy and the conflicts of interest in everything we’re told growing up. Built to Spill examines the messages of several classic rock songs: “You were right when you said all that glitters isn’t gold / You were right when you said all we are is dust in the wind / You were right when you said we’re all just bricks in the wall / And when you said manic depression is a frustrated mess,” referencing Neil Young, Kansas, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, respectively. The song then becomes an analysis of pop music in general, referencing the words that the bands were influenced by growing up and where these testaments fall into play today. Attesting to the bitterness of being disappointed and let down by your hopes and dreams, and both the disillusionments and honesty that rock songs feed us when we are growing up, “You Were Right” is about relating music to life.
6. Noah and the Whale
Last Night on Earth (2011)
A sweet song about getting through rough times, Britpop band Noah and the Whale’s precious melody of “life goes on” will be stuck in your head for days. If you’re not into cutesy music, this may not be the song for you; but if you are, it’s poppy, catchy and adorable! Noah and the Whale vocalist Charlie Fink sounds like a toned down Ray Davies of The Kinks in this one. The riff is also pretty similar to that of the Kinks’ “Lola,” which is definitely a good thing.
7. Cloud Cult
“No One Said It Would Be Easy”
Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) (2008)
Cloud Cult has been one of the most influential bands in my life over the past decade — they’ve been releasing incredible music for years and I feel their brilliance has gone unnoticed by many. Their music is energetic and beautifully powerful, full of honesty and vigor. “No One Said It Would Be Easy” builds up from a light piano performance and blossoms into a strong, zealous track about life and love — “When it all comes crashing down / try to understand your meaning / no one said it would be easy.” The lyrics effectively hit the nail on the head, illustrating one of college’s tacit lessons.
8. Yellow Ostrich
Strange Land (2012)
This song is about being stuck, about giving up on dreams, running to an unknown end, being trapped in the middle of it all and not knowing where you’re going. This is a place that we all find ourselves in when thinking about careers, the future, and where we currently stand. “I am a marathon runner / and my legs are sore / and I’m anxious to see what I’m running for,” is a metaphor that can relate to practically anything — when you do so much and aren’t quite sure what the results are going to be, anxiety runs thick. The indie-folk flexibility of Yellow Ostrich belts out this spectacle with diverse and poppy instrumentation, giving listeners something to sing along to as we continue to sprint away from responsibility.
9. The Polyphonic Spree
“Light and Day”
Light and Day (2003)
The Polyphonic Spree is a cultish orchestra of people cheering happy sentiments at their audiences and performing in a gospel-like manner. This song is similar to the Yellow Ostrich pick in that it’s a commentary about the crushing weight of life, but it ends on a much more positive note. During their first few years of touring, the band would enter stage in long white robes, performing as a choral group — it was a super weird, almost religious experience. They later switched from the robes into black military suits, offering a completely different type of theatricailty. Their upbeat and symphonic choral pop is reliably uplifting, almost transformative in the way it can encompass the listener. “Light & Day” leaves listeners with the message to stay optimistic and to live in the
Call it adoption, homage, plagiarism or appropriation, but each of these bands arrived at their names with a bit of outside help.
1. The Bilinda Butchers
Here’s a nice bit of identity theft — there’s a band in San Francisco called “The Bilinda Butchers” who stole their band name from My Bloody Valentine singer/guitarist Bilinda Butcher’s birth certificate. I came across this derivative duo when they hijacked a Google search for the actual Bilinda Butcher, so I’m not sure one could say that they’re actually “getting away with this,” as they’re seemingly an unknown band. Still worse yet, the band is a self described dream-pop band — a genre that Butcher herself helped invent. It sounds like The Bilinda Butchers should have just gone the honest route of forming a My Bloody Valentine cover band. (I should add here that My Bloody Valentine took their name from a 1981 slasher film.)
The Bilinda Butchers
The actual Bilinda Butcher
2. H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an American writer and pioneer of the “weird fiction” genre, known for his blend of science fiction, fantasy and what he called “cosmic horror.” His writing has had a profound influence on a few major metal bands — Metallica, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Electric Wizard have all paid homage to the author — but no one took it as far as a band from Chicago called … H.P. Lovecraft. The band’s psychedelic music was directly inspired by Lovecraft’s writing and their two albums are titled “H.P. Lovecraft” (1967), “H.P. Lovecraft II” (1968). The band broke up and reformed, dropping the “H.P.” from their name. Then in the 1970s Lovecraft branched just a little further out, calling themselves “Love Craft.”
H.P. Lovecraft, author.
3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Canadian post-rock collective GSY!BE are an example of a band with a borrowed name who have managed to outshine their source material — in this case a 16mm Japanese documentary from 1976 about a group of young motorcyclists who call themselves “the Black Emperors.” An online search for GSY!BE mostly brings up images of the band and their bleak artwork, which are sort of indistinguishable from stills of the film. The band’s live shows involve film projections, but the overlap between their music and their ’76 namesake ends there. These days Canada’s Godspeed have popular ownership over the the film’s title.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
From “God Speed You! Black Emperor”
4. Belle & Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian are precious. Too precious. The Scottish band epitomizes the genre of “twee,” and sing quaint songs about childish obsession (“I’m a Cuckoo”) and quirky isolation (“The Stars of Track and Field”). So it comes as no surprise that the group took their name from Cecile Aubry’s 1965 children’s novel “Belle et Sebastien,” a story about a six year old boy and his dog.
Language barriers in vocal music can draw a listener’s focus elsewhere, like the body’s natural heightening of one sense in the absence of another. In any language that isn’t your own, music can become more about the instrumental details or raw emotional impact, and less about the meaning of the lyrics. This effect could ease the experience of banal pop or lessen the experience of uninterpretable poetry, but the following five (non-English language) songs rise above either way.
You have to be pretty clever to do what Italian singer Adriano Celentano did with “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” the nonsensical invented language soul jam made to sound like American English. Considering that he invented the language and either improvised or memorized the piece for live performances — and that he doesn’t fall into a habit of blatantly repeating himself — it’s less of a novelty song and more of an avant-garde pop artifact. It’s something like the cryptic language of fellow Italian Luigi Serafini’s “Codex Seraphinianus,” (1981) an illustrated encyclopedia for a fictional world whose seemingly unintelligible language may or may not be decodable. Furthermore, Celentano’s song isn’t an isolated freak-folk solo tune— it’s a major chorus group singalong with a duet part. Celentano probably fooled the general public who made this song a #1 hit in Italy, and it’s a strange listen as an American whose ear struggles to make sense of what admittedly does sound like English. Come for the music and stay for the choreography.
2. Francoise Hardy — “J’aurais Voulu,” Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour (1965)
Francoise Hardy’s music tests my ability to recall what’s left over from high school French classes, and though certain words or phrases have occasionally registered, the timbre of her voice has a translingual emotional clarity. Her backing bands are sometimes dated, and French session players tend to sound timid and inflexible when playing blues guitar or breaking in early models of fuzz pedals, but the music is really all about Hardy’s vocals. On “J’aurais Voulu” her natural instrument is accompanied by acoustic guitar, brushed drums and subtle strings. She can murmur or soar, and on this song she does both.
3. Guitar Wolf — “Cosmic Space Girl,” Jet Generation (1999)
Guitar Wolf sounds like an 8th grader’s first idea for a band name, as radical a choice as “Teenage U.F.O.,” “Cyborg Kids” or “Midnight Violence Rock ‘N Roll” (some of their song titles) would have been. Japan’s Guitar Wolf, a trio comprised of its members Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf pull off the black leather jackets and cult b-movie starring roles with 100% seriousness. Their lyrics are in Japanese except when they throw English-speaking listeners a bone, like “rock and roll license!” or “baby, baby!” …the rest is inferable. Guitar Wolf are one of those bands that so perfectly represent their specific version of rock and roll that looking beyond them for retro-referential, ferocious garage music starts to seem useless. Who else shoots fire from their microphones?
4. Los Saicos — “Ana” (1965)
Peruvian proto-punks Los Saicos were a group from 1964 to 1966 before disbanding in order to live private lives as NASA employees and guitar teachers, despite their success as a garage rock band during the original era of that much-replicated sound. They don’t have much music available, but their own response to the widely heard British Invasion bands mirrors that of their countless British and American mid-’60s peers. All one needs to know about this song is that it’s presumably about a girl named “Ana.” The barking and singing and shouting of those two simple syllables communicates a universal message of teenage angst.
5. Boris — “Farewell,” Pink (2006)
During my year as music editor, I haven’t been shy about my love of all things shoegaze, and “Farewell” by Boris is the closest that the Japanese band gets to the that world of hazy layered guitars. The walls of delay and distorted textures are there, and the hard hitting, mid-tempo drums point toward the band’s stoner rock tendencies. Ambiguous, whispering vocals are a signature feature of the shoegaze genre, but the language barrier here allows for Boris’ howling to turn as instrumental as their quieter U.K. counterparts, whose vocals were buried much lower in the mix.
English indie-rock group Editors showed a lot of promise early on; their sophomore album, “An End Has a Start,” (2007) was number one on the UK charts in June 2007 and received critical acclaim worldwide. Similar to their peers at that time – Interpol, Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys and the like – they delivered a strong, definitive rock sound that seemed to indicate staying power and a future for the band.
Their third album, “In This Light and on This Evening” (2009), took a break from their guitar-driven rock and aimed toward gloomy synthesizer resonance akin to mid-80s new wave music by Depeche Mode and Joy Division. This deviation from their original sound resulted in mixed reactions from fans and critics alike. Their lead guitarist left the band after the release of “In This Light and on This Evening” due to “differences in musical direction” and it was unclear at that point whether the band would continue to fall into an abyss of nostalgia for Ian Curtis or find a way back to their original roots.
“The Weight of Your Love” (2013) shows that the band is taking themselves seriously again – albeit a bit too seriously. The arena rock ballads that the album presents (produced by U2 producer, Flood) seem more gimmicky than impressive. Still, some successful moments shine through. “A Ton Of Love” and “The Weight” show some resemblance to what the band used to be, and the progressive, mellow sound might appeal to fans of Coldplay or Kings of Leon. Yet all in all, the album lays unmoving. An attempt at immersing their old sound of atmospheric indie rock into something voluminous and heavy, Editors have fallen short of what they aimed for. Bland, lacking in spirit and missing the raw enthusiasm that once made them top of the charts, “The Weight of Your Love” falls off as a monotonous album that’s not worth listening to twice.
It’s easy to imagine bands as singular cooperative entities instead of groups of complex individuals attempting to achieve something beyond themselves by combining their talents and ideas. So when a band’s lineup changes and a voice goes missing from the whole, the entity and its music inevitably change. Sometimes this works out for the best and sometimes it doesn’t.
When I think of Smashing Pumpkins I like to go directly to 1995, specifically to an image of the band from the “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” double album liner notes. Guitar virtuoso and disaffected goth-y Chicagoan Billy Corgan is wearing his iconic “Zero” shirt and silver pants; underrated guitarist James Iha is looking bored in his striped shirt with his striped hair; Bassist D’arcy Wretzky seems to be visually referencing the band’s acid-head beginnings with her paisley shirt and non-sequitur carrot; and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain is there with some more interesting fashion choices. I’ve written about this album and its artwork before, but in terms of lineup changes, this is the triumphant last stand for the ‘90s alternative rock gods that were at one time immortalized on the Simpsons before being shattered by personnel changes, artistic missteps, hiatus, Corgan’s “reformation” with Chamberlain and two strangers, and ultimately Chamberlain’s exit. Today Billy Corgan is the last of the original Pumpkins still carrying the torch.
Sleep ∞ Over
Sleep ∞ Over
When Sleep ∞ Over first came to my attention it was with their Forest Family Records 7″ debut, “Outer Limits.” The song “Outer Limits” came into my life during a perfect storm of receptibility — it was summertime, I had a car and a lot of night driving opportunities, and at that particular moment my musical interests were primed for a textural pop band with a cool tumblr and an infinity symbol in their name. “Outer Limits” and its b-side “La Rose” — paired with their jumping-on-the-bed album art — felt like an intercepted transmission from a sexier, sleepier planet hiding behind the moon. By the time the album “Forever” (2011) came out, the group had gone from a trio to the solo project of Stefanie Franciotti. Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown went on to form the band Boy Friend. Boy Friend and Sleep ∞ Over each continued to exist in hypnagogic states, but both projects fail to live up to the promise of the original “Outer Limits” release.
Animal Collective get a sort of Get Out of Jail Free card on the line-up change discussion because, as their name indicates, they’re a fluid collective whose releases have featured as few as two or as many as four members. However, when guitarist Deakin went missing from 2009′s “Merriweather Post Pavilion” is was the first subtractive adjustment to the lineup. The comprehensible sound of guitar strings went missing, and with it went the implicit human hand in Animal Collective’s sound. Remaining AnCo members Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist all moved on to the infinite and otherworldly possibilities of digital sampling. The jump from “Strawberry Jam” (2007) to “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was a major evolution, and without Deakin Animal Collective made their most accesible album to date without abandoning their tendencies to challenge and indulge in kaleidoscopic psychedelia. Deakin and his guitar returned to the band for “Centipede Hz” (2012), an album more closely related to the dense, eerie and harsh nature of the band’s early material. “Centipede Hz” was seemingly a lateral progression for the band, and makes as logical a follow-up to 2007′s “Strawberry Jam” as “Merriweather Post Pavillion” did in 2009.
Guitarists Syd Barrett and Brian Jones will be remembered similarly as founding members of important and influential English classic rock bands (Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, respectively) who fell casualty to drugs in an era of widespread experimentation and misunderstanding. Syd Barret, by 1968, had become a victim of his interest in LSD and left the band. If you listen to the material that Barrett pioneered with early Pink Floyd it’s all kitschy Summer of Love rock, as recognizable and harmless as a store bought “hippie” halloween costume. Pink Floyd really hit their stride of brooding, philosophical seriousness when bassist Roger Waters and replacement guitarist David Gilmour took over the band-leading roles and expanded the band’s scope to all of space with the album “Dark Side of the Moon” (1973), a landmark of classic rock and studio experimentation that lyrically touches upon their fallen leader’s descent into drug-fueled mental illness. The band would continue to commemorate Barrett’s breakdown with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and, of course, “Wish You Were Here” (1975).
Joy Division / New Order
New Order and Joy Division should be taken on their own terms, though their histories are inseparable. New Order was founded by the remaining members of Joy Division in the immediate wake of Joy Division singer/guitarist Ian Curtis’ suicide. “Ceremony,” the first single from New Order, is a Curtis-penned song. A “Ceremony” demo and a few live recordings exist with Curtis’ semi-audible vocals recorded days before his death. New Order went on to become a major electronic new-wave band in their own right, having shed themselves of sinister post-punk minimalism in favor of programmed dance beats and synthesizers in the 1980s.
The Velvet Underground & Nico
The Velvet Underground
Were you aware that the Velvet Underground continued to be a band after Lou Reed left in 1970? That makes as much sense as if they relocated from NYC to Houston — NYC and Reed essentially being the recipe for one of the most influential American music groups of the 1960s. “Squeeze” (1973) is officially a VU record, but it was recorded without any original members of the band and written entirely by Doug Yule who joined the group in 1969, after the peak days of Nico, “Heroin,” and Andy Warhol. Three years before “Squeeze,” the recording of the album “Loaded” (1970), (named after a request for the band to record an album “loaded with hits,”) dissolved what was left of the Velvet Underground, making “Squeeze” a bizarre, delayed and unacknowledged afterthought.
Even though Girls was a two-piece band at its core and in its photoshoots, there were 21 musicians in and out of Girls’ world during their five years as a band.
Then, after three well-loved releases — the raggedy sunshine pop of “Album” (2009), the cleaned up “Broken Dreams Club”(2010) EP and the sonically rich and structurally varied “Father Son & Holy Ghost”(2011) — singer/songwriter Christopher Owens quit the band, leaving listeners to momentarily imagine the future of Girls without the heart & soul & voice & songwriter of the band. Girls was officially left to its bassist/producer, in other words — done for.
In his announcement that he was leaving the duo, Owens promised that he’d be back with new music soon. His next release was his solo album, “Lysandre,” an intricate and folky concept album about Girls’ first tour and a resulting love story narrative between Owens and a French woman for whom the album is named. On the initial tour for this album Owens, in a suit and tie, performed the album from start to finish with the full group of musicians who played on the record. The whole trajectory of his ambition to become a classic songwriter, made apparent by the marked improvement of craft on each Girls record, was still on the upswing — he was a long way from the scrappy beginnings of Girls, singing about getting high in the park and sleeping in until the afternoon.
The Lysandre tour came though Chicago to Lincoln Hall, where Girls also had a sold out show on their final tour. Since then, “Lysandre” has been re-released as an acoustic album — all vocals and classical guitar. I expected that Owens’ show at the Hideout Inn was going to be one of the full band Lysandre shows, or at least a performance of those songs in the spirit of the stripped down re-release. However, the only song from the album that he did play was “Part of Me,” the last song on the album, and the only song on “Lysandre” not in the key of A and without a reprise of “Lysandre’s Theme” — a recurring motif used to close or open each song. At the Hideout Inn Owens played almost exclusively from the Girls catalogue. He played songs from each of the band’s releases, including early b-sides from the “Album” singles.
Hearing Christopher Owens’ songs as solo performances on a classical guitar with the occasional, melancholy harmonica soloing (more in Neil Young’s mode than Dylan’s, if a comparison is necessary) seemed to be the most natural embodiment of his music. Owens has always surrounded himself with talented, if flaky, musicians. Girls saw some outstanding lead guitarists and gospel choirs, and “Lysandre” featured lush arrangements, flutes and sax solos, but the lives of Owens’ songs are inherently quiet and private, best heard directly and unadorned. His show at the Hideout Inn revealed that despite his desire to be a part of a tight-knit band, Owens has always been a solo performer and that Girls songs were never written as collaborations in the first place. With no new album out and no more band behind him, the shows that Owens is out playing right now are a rare look into the fundamentally singular source of his most celebrated material.