Nirvana - Live At The Paramount

10 August 2022  •  Filed under ,

It’s Halloween night, and the Paramount Theatre in Seattle is packed to the rafters with roughly 2,800 people. The show’s original headliner, Mudhoney, has been replaced by the opening act: a band named Nirvana. It’s only been a month since their album, Nevermind, was released, but it’s exploded across radio and MTV thanks to the runaway success of the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Ready or not, Nirvana is on an unstoppable trajectory to worldwide fame.

These days, Nirvana are pretty much universally recognized as A Very Big Deal. They’re one of the most influential bands of the last 50 years. Perhaps the most influential. Still, 1991 was a long time ago, and feelings fade. I have my own memory of watching “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time on MTV, and I still feel excited when I watch that video, but I also know that—more than 30 years in my rearview mirror—it’ll never feel quite the same again.

Watching this show is the closest I’ve come to recapturing that sense of jaw-dropping awe. Though the performance is perpetually invaded by the on-screen presence of a six-man camera crew, their work puts you right on stage, and you get a very clear view of why this band was causing such a ruckus. I struggle to think of a more visceral, physical rock performance. Sweet fancy Moses. Dave Grohl is mostly a blur of thrashing hair. Krist Novoselic hops around the stage, barefoot, muttering nonsense jokes into the mic between songs. And Kurt is, well, Kurt: singing & playing like his soul is trying to escape his body. It’s amazing to witness the wonderful noise that a modest drum kit, a bass, one guitar, and two pedals duct taped to the floor can make. What a gift.

If I had a time machine…


Regal Lily

20 July 2022  •  Filed under

Regal Lily is a 3-piece indie pop-rock band out of Tokyo. They’ve been around since 2014 and have put out 3 EPs and 2 LPs. I’ve listened to all of them, but primarily keep coming back to their latest 2 LPs, 2020’s bedtime story and 2021’s Cとし生けるもの (Google Translate says this means “C and living things” 🤷).

I discovered them through their music video for “GOLD TRAIN” on YouTube, which is probably one of the most amazing shoegaze/noise pop songs I’ve ever heard. It’s at the top of my 50 favorite songs right now, and I don’t think it’s going to trend down the list anytime soon. Utterly brilliant. It’s one of those “this speaks to my soul” songs.

The band’s sound has evolved over the years, starting with very jangly indie pop on those early EPs and becoming progressively heavier. Their latest album is full of classically fuzzed-out guitar and bashing drums pushed up against Honoka Takahashi’s breathy, childlike vocals. She still has trouble hitting some of her high notes, which gives many songs a twist of raw youthfulness and puts a delightful contrast on the heavier moments. They’ve got a real gift for melody, and have just gotten better and better with time. Their music never ceases to put me in a better mood.

Even though no other song goes as hard for the swirling shoegaziness of “GOLD TRAIN” (well, maybe “9mmの花”), I still really like this band’s overall sound, which is kind of all I have to go on since every song is sung in Japanese. Google Translate will tell you what the words are, but there’s no way to translate the meaning. The more I listen to Japanese music, the more I go from being okay with not understanding the lyrics to very much wanting to know what each song is about. I have a feeling that Regal Lily’s lyrics are outstanding, given that they cite classic Japanese literature as inspiration.

Before you go, watch this video. If you like it, I’d suggest listening to all their releases in reverse order.


Cattle - Somehow Hear Songs

15 June 2022  •  Filed under

2015’s Somehow Hear Songs is the debut EP from Tokyo band Cattle. This whole thing is vibrating with the buzzsaw guitar, copious feedback, and swirling ambience that are immediately reminiscent of shoegaze legends like My Bloody Valentine and Ringo Deathstarr. And that’s okay—I don’t mind a good imitation band, especially if they really understand what makes their influences great.

All six songs are unskippable, crushing and soothing at every turn, but the two closing track are my favorites. “Blue Star” couches pretty vocals in impregnable wall-of-sound guitars; “Birth” soars with untold layers of twinkling and droning guitars. Shoegaze at its finest.


Fennel - slow down

18 May 2022  •  Filed under

Last year, I stumbled across BAND-MAID, a Japanese rock band. It was another breath of fresh air into the sails of my unfurling musical renaissance, and I really enjoyed watching their live performance videos. I listened to some of their albums, but nothing really grabbed onto me as tightly as those few videos.

Intrigued, I’ve kept poking around YouTube for more Japanese bands, and found quite a few that I’ll probably write about. One of those is Regal Lily, whose song “GOLD TRAIN” totally blew me away. Their musical style matches up more with what I listen to on the regular, and my incessant playback of that music video tuned the algorithm to other artists that slot into my particular indie pop/rock, shoegaze, & post-rock tastes.

Consequently, I recently discovered slow down, and it’s a really great record. It’s the solo project of Sagane Hiromi, who is also the bass player for venerated math-rock band Tricot. Under the moniker Fennel, Hiromi makes catchy indie rock reminiscent of early 90s college rock bands like The Lemonheads, Blake Babies, and Letters to Cleo.

There’s a good variety of vibes on this mini-album. Opener “drunker” appropriately rides a loose, serpentine, R.E.M.-adjacent riff, while “Sunday” is an energetic banger full of crashing drums à la Letters to Cleo. Naturally, most of the lyrics are sung in Japanese, but there are a few earnest explosions of English, like on the closer “You and I”. Personally, I enjoy listening to Japanese lyrics; not being able to understand the words is kind of a relief and emphasizes the vocals as more of the instrument that they are.

Anyways, I highly recommend this album, especially if you’re into those early 90s influences. Coming from a bass player, I’d expect the rhythm section to be strong, but the guitar work and vocal melodies are also really good. It’s prime spring/summer energy.

Slow down.


Dear Robert Smith

21 April 2022  •  Filed under ,

Legend.

I was 16 when I discovered The Cure.

The church dances I felt obligated to attend as a teenager were torturous. Though I am still plenty introverted as an adult, I was positively reclusive as a teen. There were girls there, and I did like music, so maybe I was more enticed than obligated. At any rate, I wanted to enjoy going to these things, but really didn’t. All I felt was a mountain of anxiety, sitting at the back of the darkest half of the gymnasium. Alone, I listened.

The music was usually the same uninspired Top 40 fare every time. Not all bad, but spotty. This night, though, was different. The kids never got to control the equipment, but we could make requests. I’m not sure if it was the DJ’s choices or someone whispering in their ear, but they started playing music I’d never heard before. It sounded sophisticated and exciting and slightly weird, and it really spoke to me. One song in particular came on with the final words “just like heaven”, and it really made an impression on me. The sound of the guitar, the pretty tune, the unusual voice, the painterly lyrics—what poetry was this? Who was this? Above the music, I heard some kids nearby talk about “the cure”. I repeated it to myself so I wouldn’t forget.

The next chance I had—maybe it was the next day, or the next week—I walked to the store near my house that I knew had music. The “C” section was stuffed with cassette tapes for The Cure, but none of them had any song with “heaven” in the title. No, this album was called Disintegration, and its cover was a very pale face floating beneath a sea of gauzy flowers. Thinking that I had maybe misconstrued the name of the song at the dance, and being intrigued by this very artistic album cover, I bought it and hoped for the best.

It was sadness made beautiful.

Laying on my bed back home, the new cassette tape hissing quietly, I listened with anticipation to the sound of chimes ringing in the wind, gently trailing off into silence. If you know this album, you know what comes next. “Plainsong” was a wholly unexpected explosion of orchestral synths and silky guitars. Even through what were surely terrible headphones, the music was enthralling. It was like nothing I had ever listened to before; the music seemed to play forever before anyone started singing. And when the singing started, it was no “Just Like Heaven”, but it was unquestionably the same voice. Like that song I had heard at the dance, he sounded melancholy, and so did the words. It spoke so immediately to my 16 year old heart that I could hardly believe it. It was sadness made beautiful.

My parents ever understood why I loved this album so much. Why I wrote the lyrics of “Prayers for Rain” on my school notebook and wore a Disintegration t-shirt to school way too many days in a row. One night we had family “music appreciation” where we all played a song that we enjoyed. About 2 minutes into “Plainsong”, their patience ran out and one of them asked “When is the song going to start? Is this it?” I was seriously annoyed, but this music wasn’t for them. It was mine. I knew what it was and why it was great.

It’s no understatement to say that Disintegration is the most influential album I’ve ever listened to. From that moment, I started getting adventurous about seeking out left-of-center artists, looking at more obscure music magazines for other bands that looked different or were identified as Cure-adjacent, and quickly shifted my entire focus to what are now known as all-time classic 80s alternative bands like New Order, Depeche Mode, The Sundays, Pet Shop Boys, and The Smiths, plus emerging bands like Cocteau Twins and Lush (and, naturally, The Cure’s whole back catalog). I filled every available minute of my life listening to all of it.

The 90s weren’t far away. It wouldn’t be long until grunge exploded, and I would fold a lot of that music into my collection, too. But I listened to The Cure pretty heavily for a good stretch of the 90s, and—to this day—there’s no question that a lot of what I enjoy listening to tracks back in one way or another to The Cure and, specifically, to Disintegration.

The album is a touchstone for many, many people, so my experience is not necessarily unique, but it is mine. I really don’t know if I would love music as much as I do, or have felt the compulsion to venture out into alternative musical veins, if it wasn’t for Disintegration. I know that this album embodies a very difficult time, and I can’t imagine that it was easy to write. But, it showed me that men could be—all at once—colorful, moody, expressive, unusual, sensitive, and emotional. It gave me new sounds, new perspective, new avenues, and a new vocabulary for expression.

A new me.

Thank you, Robert.

(And happy birthday.)


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