Ex Hex, Rips

ex-hex

Remember when I wrote about music? I do, sort of. Over a year ago I wrote about how much Mary Timony’s album, The Golden Dove, means to me. (If you scroll down, like, 2 posts, you can read that. That is about how frequently I blog.) Since then, I’ve started a new job and taken an island vacation and gotten the cat mask Mary wears on the album cover tattooed on my arm as an important charm against bad things and Mary has gotten together with a new band called Ex Hex and they’ve put out this album called Rips and I’m here to tell you that Rips is like the Seconds of Pleasure of our time, except better.

Like, there are these certain ambling dudely rock songs that I love to listen to, especially when I’m in the car. So, you know, “Girls Talk” by Dave Edmunds, “Madison Avenue Man” by Greg Kihn, “So It Goes” by Nick Lowe, and Rips is just The Modern Woman’s Answer To All Of That. Every song on Rips is a two-minute drill down a football field that ends with Mary Timony throwing a touchdown pass.

I think a lot about the emotions that music invokes in me. What I’ve appreciated about a lot of Mary’s previous songwriting is how specific and insular it is and, how through that specificity, I somehow am able to find my own experiences. Rips is something else. Rips is wild and extroverted and celebratory. Rips is, like, hedonistic, but in this way that really pays with/plays homage to rock and power pop. I love how smart this album is – how good the hooks are, how (at it’s best) it’s like “Fox on the Run” reborn and made better, but I also love how making this kind of record is like making a different space for yourself in the world.

The Golden Dove is always going to be my favorite Mary Timony joint and it’s always going to evoke a very particular set of feelings from me that are empowering in a very specific context, but Rips is doing something different. Something equally valuable. Rips is balancing joy and frenetic energy, Rips is negotiating the internal and the external. Rips is totally a cool older sister – mystery and wisdom and excitement all bound up in this package that makes you think, “Someday I want to be her.”

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Neko Case

nekocaseI was sitting on the couch when I saw the mail truck come up the road & I waited until the postman had his back to my door before I peered out the front window to see if anything had been left for me. It was a good mail day – three packages, one of which was my preorder of the deluxe edition of Neko Case’s new album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. I had listened to the album a handful of times via NPR’s First Listen feature, but it’s hard to really experience something at your desk when your phone won’t stop ringing and your co-workers are chatting by the coffee machine and someone is running off a thousand copies at the copier. I am trying to make the space in my life to listen to music more intentionally, but it hasn’t been easy.

The deluxe edition of the album came with a CD, so while I drove from the west side of Cleveland out to the east side, I listened. Driving past empty factories, past the baseball stadium, around dead man’s curve. There’s new graffiti on a building just past the MLK exit. It says, “PROVOKE” in black and white letters. I listen quietly throughout the drive and when it’s over, I listen again.

While I drove, I thought about a book that I had just finished – Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain. St. Germain’s memoir is spare and gritty, recounting the death of his mother at the hands of her boyfriend in their home not far from Tombstone, AZ. St. Germain writes quietly and thoughtfully about masculinity, violence, and the terrible but invisible darkness that can grow between people. Son of a Gun is a sometimes beautiful but always unflinching meditation on violent death and the questions a murder leaves behind.

The opening line of the album’s first song (“Wild Creatures”) is: When you catch the light, you look just like your mother. Maybe it was just the word “mother” that got me thinking about St. Germain’s book, still so fresh in my mind, but each song called up some memory of a scene from Son of a Gun & even though Case’s album is a wholly independent piece of art, I couldn’t stop putting the two in conversation with each other.

Case’s songs and St. Germain’s memoir are tinged with sadness and violence – men are cruel to women; parents are cruel to their children; and in the end, we are all alone. Maybe this is just the human condition? Listening to songs like “Man,” “Afraid,” and “Local Girl” – I think of St. Germain’s mother. A woman who seemed not unlike the moms of so many of my friends growing up.

I don’t mean to suggest that Case’s album is wholly and unforgivably dark – there are moments of levity & a thread of strength runs throughout every song, but I can’t help thinking of Lynda Barry’s writing on resilience in her book One! Hundred! Demons! – are resilience and strength too easily conflated? What do we gain and lose when we steel ourselves to trauma, to sadness? Is resilience a kind of forgetting? How do we negotiate strength and what kind of mediation of our feelings and memories do we engage in when we seek to be resilient?

Read Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain. Listen to The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Think about the things that are going wrong, think about how you fight, think about what you love. Think about what makes you feel strong, search out your muscles and flex them.

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Remember blogging?

I don’t blog much these days, especially not here. It’s hard to find the time to write long form posts about anything and the way that I’ve listened to music has changed so much since I last posted. I no longer live in a home with a working stereo system, so I only listen to music either on my laptop (the tinny sound of laptop speakers making everything sound just a little off), in the car (a mix of the radio and the same playlist I’ve had on my iPhone for the last year), or at work (streaming albums via Spotify, the sound of what I’m listening to constantly drowned out by ringing phones).

Yesterday I was talking to April about how new music seems so hard to come by. There are a few new things that I like and am excited about, but for the most part the music that makes me happiest is old, old, old (particularly by internet standards). I’m going to fewer shows these days and I’m buying fewer albums, but I still think that music matters & three old things that have mattered most this year are:

Dinosaur Jr., “Freak Scene”

The Friday night before the fourth of July, Matt and I went to a crummy neighborhood bar to drink and play that MegaTouch game where you spot the differences between two “sexy” photos. The bar was practically empty and only perfect 80s/90s college radio songs were playing – “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”, “Fade Into You” (P.S. what is up with this song? I heard it in three separate places on the same day this week ), “Cannonball.” When “Freak Scene” came on, I couldn’t resist the urge to say, “I think this is one of the best love songs ever written,” whispering into my drink: just don’t let me fuck up, will you/when I need a friend it’s still you.

The Flying Burrito Brothers, “Hot Burrito No. 2″

Right before I moved out of my apartment, my friends Brittany and Pat came to visit me and we went to a party hosted by one of Brittany’s friends from high school. At the end of the night, there were just a few of us left sitting around the stereo. “We should really get going ” kept turning into “ok, but just one more song,” and while most of what we heard was culled from the greatest hits of our youth (Bone Thugs, Rilo Kiley, probably some Bright Eyes), “Hot Burrito No. 2″ somehow got thrown into the mix. A song like this can make you ask some dark questions about your life, but in that moment I was just thankful to be embraced by Gram’s voice and the same familiar sadness that always comes along with it.

Mary Timony, “Blood Tree”

I’ve been listening to The Golden Dove a lot lately. Like at least once a day. There’s a quiet, decisive perfectness about that album. It’s like the perfect cross between a Mary Gaitskill story and a pack of tarot cards and The Animal Family and all the darkest, strongest, most raw parts of yourself (which I guess is technically covered by “a Mary Gaitskill story.”) I don’t normally grow into music, but the older I get, the better this album sounds. I love the feeling of driving along the shoreway, gray waves crashing on the rocks and me, snarling along with Mary, “give and give and never ask” (the only other lyric that I can think of that gives me the same level of satisfaction is “I ain’t no goddamn foster home” in “I’m Not Your Mother” by Blake Babies).

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Songs of 2012

ImageI feel like everytime I write something, I start with this caveat about “coming out of blog retirement” and an apology for not having written & I’m not sure why that is, because when it all comes down to it, I’m not really writing this for any reason other than I am here and there are things I love and I want to remember just how much I love them. 2012 was a year of big changes — some of them happy, some of them weird, all of them keeping me from blogging. I didn’t buy as many records as I did in years past and I didn’t listen to as much new music, but 2012 was a year of some truly wonderful music-related memories and experiences. I realize that sounds a lot like “Camp this year was the absolute best! Never forget me! XOXO,” but it’s how I feel, ok? So with that in mind, here are five of the songs (new and old) that defined 2012 for me.

01. Allo Darlin’, “Capricornia” (YouTube)

“Could you ever understand how you ended up here/Any friend you ever had has disappeared/And the tug of a heartstring is the line that pulls you home/And you bear witness to the ones you used to know.” Allo Darlin’ has been a mainstay on any and all “end of year” lists I’ve made since starting this now deeply neglected blog. I think what I love most about Allo Darlin’ is the ways in which Elizabeth, as a songwriter, is able to blend the specific and the universal, is able to put the story of her own life (however intentionally or unintentionally) in conversation with the stories of the lives of everyone who is listening. I know that “Capricornia” tells a story about Elizabeth’s life, but I can hear my own story, too — lost friends, young deaths, hometowns that feel unspeakably foreign, a slowly diminishing sense of self, a worry that you will never be quite the right person in quite the right place, no matter how hard you try. “Capricornia” is unspeakably beautiful and sad and I can think of few songs (new or old) that hit me harder this year.

02. The Babies, “Mess Me Around” (YouTube, live in Cleveland)

Sometimes there is a desperation to things — it’s hard to articulate. It’s like an itch under my skin, like a fever that won’t break. In early 2012 I saw The Babies and the moment this song began, I knew it was the one. I listened to a bootlegged version from that Cleveland show obsessively, howling in my car, “They’re gone mess me around, Lord.” Berating myself, “You’re a dumb fuck, you fucking idiot.” 2012 started rough and, sometimes, it feels like it stayed rough. Like that desperation simmered for 12 long months and is getting ready to boil over.

03. EMA, “Take One Two” (YouTube)

This is what I wrote about the video for “Take One Two” the first time I saw it (February 15, 2012): I can’t watch this video and not think of what things used to be like — how those are our tiny bedrooms and our bad makeup and our Jesus pictures with darts thrown at them, our own tiny private rebellions strung together in the hours after school and the hot, stifling Ohio summers. I can’t watch this video and not think of fist fights, of breaking glass, of the moments that defined my teenage years — half fear, half adrenaline, half the beauty and terror of my friends and I jumping out of windows and driving aimlessly late at night and wading in the river til the water came up past our waists. Experiences that don’t add up right when you check the math. Experiences that are unknowable, unmappable unless you have been through them too.

(As I test I watched the video again just now and I cried at my kitchen table. I saw a lot of good shows in 2012, but EMA was far and away the best — leading the crowd through a series of unexpected encores – “The Whole Wide World,” “Miss World,” “Outta Me.” I cried in the car on the way home.)

04. Guided By Voices, “Quality of Armor” (YouTube (studio), YouTube, (live in Cleveland – can you spot my fist? It is small, but it is raised))

I cannot remember a time when Guided By Voices was not a staple of my life — I think back to the earliest years I can remember, to my first awareness of music as a thing that was around me, and GBV is there, always. There as much a part of my identity as an Ohioan as loving the Cleveland Browns in spite of every painful loss. The last time I saw Guided By Voices, a stranger grabbed me by the hair and kissed me on the mouth and I was so, so mad, so hurt, so violated. It was like someone punched me in church, you know? Like everything I loved was being torn apart in front of me. And I was thinking, this is it. This is it. Everything is terrible and everything is ruined, but at the very end of the night they played “Quality of Armor” and it was like being rebuilt, like I got a new stronger heart, a tougher set of bones. For the rest of the year, this was the song I turned to when I needed strength.

05. Drake, “Take Care” (YouTube)

It is late November and Matt and I are driving through Westlake. We just stopped at a drug store because he wanted to buy an ice cube tray. He doesn’t think you can get them at the drug store, but I am confident. We find them in an aisle that has paper plates and plastic forks and “As Seen On TV” products. It’s dark and his car still has new car smell. We are flipping through the radio and I hear the opening notes of “Take Care” and say, “No, no, no, stop, stop, stop.” This is the first time I have ever had a boyfriend who will indulge my penchant for Top 40 Friendly music. Planes blink by in the night sky and Matt says, “I saw Drake coming out of an elevator once, but I didn’t know who he was.” I think of all the nights in the last year that I have gotten into bed, pulled the covers up, and heard Drake’s voice on an endless loop — “My only wish is I die real.” This year I tell myself over and over again: be real, be real, be real. This was the year of taking care — of being good to myself, of learning to let other people be good to me, and it doesn’t get any realer than that.

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Eric’s Leftovers

ImageEric Gaffney (JC & Friends), “Fast Times at Riot Girl High” (DOWNLOAD)

It’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it? I had it together enough to post an end of year list, but I haven’t blogged much since (though I’ve heard plenty of great new — and old — albums and have gone a handful of amazing shows).

I’ve been getting loads of publicity emails and have been automatically archiving most of them without even opening them — blogging has started to feel too much like work & I hate work and that’s probably why I haven’t blogged since January.

But you know what doesn’t feel too much like work? Listening to Eric Gaffney’s recently released collection of old demos, rarities, etc. I impulse bought it via Eric’s Bandcamp after coming home from work tonight and I’ve been listening to the track “Fast Times at Riot Girl High” on repeat for like the last 15 minutes.

We all know I have ~complicated feelings~ about riot grrl, so let’s not even have that conversation. Instead let’s talk about Eric Gaffney — about those songs of his that sound like the emotional equivalent of a teenage volcanic eruption, that remind me of the boys I grew up with (scabby knees and unkempt hair and Megadeath tshirts, smoking weed out beyond the football field), that make me think of myself as a teenager, hunched over in my desk, furiously scribbling in a falling apart spiral bound notebook.

I moved this summer (yes, again) and listening to Eric’s Leftovers feels a little like moving. Like going through boxes and boxes filled with scraps of paper and Polaroid photos and fliers torn down from wherever they happened to catch my eye. There are things to keep here and maybe some things to throw away. There are things that provoke significant emotional responses and sometimes you feel sad and sometimes you feel wiser and sometimes you feel elated — like the moment in “Fast Times at Riot Girl High” where Eric howls, “BIKINI KILL – BIT BY BIT GONNA CHANGE THE WORLD.” And whatever your feeling, it just feels good to finally feel something.

Eric Gaffney (JC & Friends), “Fast Times at Riot Girl High” (DOWNLOAD)

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New Releases from M’Lady’s Records

M’Lady’s had one of my favorite releases in 2011 with the debut album from Coasting & 2012 is already shaping up to be another great year for the Portland, OR-based label. On February 28th M’Lady’s will be shipping two releases that I’m unbelievably excited about — the first is a split single featuring Grass Widow and Nature. Grass Widow is one of my favorite bands in recent years — their releases have been consistently fresh and challenging, but always fun to listen to. You can stream “Disappearing Industries,” their side of the split, below.

M’Lady’s is now taking orders for the 7” — the first 100 copies of the single will be in hand-marbelized and letterpressed sleeves designed by members of Grass Widow and Nature.

In addition to the Grass Widow/Nature split, M’Lady’s is currently taking preorders for the Shotgun Seamstress box set. Shotgun Seamstress is one of the seminal zines regarding punk & race and I’m super excited that M’Lady’s has put this anthology together. All six issues of Shotgun Seamstress have been printed and packaged together in a box with a bonus mixtape. There aren’t too many zines that I would assign a “required reading” tag to, but Shotgun Seamstress is one of them and if you haven’t had a chance to read it, I couldn’t think of a better way for you to encounter Osa Atoe’s zine than in this anthology set. The anthology is limited to 100 copies, so I would recommend preordering it if you’re able to.

You  can preorder both releases from the M’Lady’s website & they’ll ship at the end of February. Order now & give yourself something to look forward to this winter!

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Pre-order New La Sera Album, Stream New Track

Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman is getting ready to release her second album with La Sera, Sees the Light. La Sera’s self-titled LP was a slow grower for me, but the more I listened to it, the more I liked it & if their latest track “Please Be My Third Eye” is a hint at what Sees the Light is going to sound like, then I’m totally on board. The track is a departure from the dreamy slow songs that peppered La Sera’s debut LP — I’m a fan of this slighty more direct, aggressive sound and am really looking forward to hearing the full album when it’s released this March.

If you like what you hear, you can pre-order Sees the Light from Hardly Art on either CD or LP. Pre-ordered LPs will be pressed on opaque yellow vinyl and will be shipped with a download code.

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