Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

Last Friday, my office-mate Jill told me she had to go home in order "to let the dogs out." Ergo, in true Jeopardy fashion, "Jill" is the answer to the notoriously prickly question asked in 2000 by the Baha Men in their riddle-for-the-ages anthem "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Rebecca Black's "Friday"

People make a really big deal about certain days of the week. Nobody likes Mondays. Out of the seven days in a week, most die on a Tuesday. Wednesday is rather perversely known as "hump day." Thursday ... well, I honestly can't tell you what the hell is Thursday good for. But we all know the one day of the week that undoes the previous four days and gets us ready for the next two: Friday. Thankfully, thirteen year-old Rebecca Black reminds us how much this day of the week totally dominates in her 2011 smash hit aptly titled "Friday."

Friday hasn't always been the most popular day of the week. In fact, it is common knowledge that Saturday was THE DAY throughout most of human history. This changed, however, in the 17th Century, after the first performances of William Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It, when it appears that Fridays and Saturdays became tied as the favorite days of the week. In it, Orlando commands Rosalind to "love" him. Rosalind replies, "Yes, faith, will I, Fridays and Saturdays, and all." From this point until the release of the double-whammy of the 1975 television comedy show Saturday Night Live and the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever, it appeared that people still preferred Saturdays. However, the following year saw the release of another disco classic, Thank God It's Friday, and the tables forever turned. From this point on, Fridays were King. The film itself is solely responsible for this exultation. Subsequent studies have in fact proven that Friday itself is absolute proof of a Judeo-Christian God, hence the very phrase "Thank God it's Friday," and, of course, that glorious chain of fine dining establishments, whose food has more product in it that Guy Fieri's hair. Plus, would the formerly most pissed-off rapper in the world Ice Cube have made THREE films about the day if it wasn't so inherently excellent? I think not. When he says, "Damn it was a good day," it's of course Friday he is talking about, not lame ass Tuesday. Seriously. Besides, who would ever eat at a place called Thank the Absence of a Deity It's Friday? TTAOADI Fridays just doesn't roll off the tongue well at all.

Like blue moons, or people who have watched Showgirls all the way through sober, Friday's are rare. They only happen once every seven days. As a result, we need to be constantly reminded about them and their genius. Fortunately, Rebecca Black reminds us, and how. Nestled over a Euro-dance groove, Black's mixolydian dulcet drone of a voice presents Fridays for what they really represent: possibility. According to Black, Friday's present all kinds of crazy options. Should one be "kickin' in the front seat," or perhaps decide on "sittin' in the back seat"? "Everybody's looking forward to the weekend," she sharply observes. She points out how strong desire really is, in ways no other human has so directly expressed. While people have "fun, fun, fun" and like to go "partyin' partyin'" on the weekends, looking forward to all this fun and all this partying is far more cathartic. The weekends become, to evoke the theorist Roland Barthes, a pleasureable text, a jouissance, as our desire for revelation is intrinsically more pleasurable than the revelation itself. Also, because Friday's are so rare, we often forget "yesterday was Thursday" and that "tomorrow is Saturday" and "Sunday comes afterwards." It's that intense of an experience, this Friday thing.

In short, we should all not only Thank God It's Friday, or Tell God to Shove It Because It's Not, but we should Thank Rebecca Black for Reminding Us How Awesome Fridays Are. Even if that creepy rapper guy who makes a cameo toward the end of the song seems way too thrilled about passing a school bus.

Here's the brilliant promotional clip for the song:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: 33 1/3 #77 Tusk

Rob Trucks opens his volume on Fleetwood Mac's classic album "Tusk" with a warning of sorts: "There's a character named Rob in this book who functions in ways that may or may not clearly relate to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, and if you don't feel like you can handle that, then by all means put this book down." Trucks' "warning" does two things for me--first, it really kind of annoys me. Okay, so you wrote a not entirely conventional piece of music journalism. So what? So some boring readers don't like it when music journalism has things like "personality" and "style" and only want to read the same boring facts and anecdotes presented in the same boring way over and over again. By "warning" these people away from a book, you're essentially apologizing to them for not writing the book they would have written. Never apologize to those people. Odds are, what you've written is better than what they would have written. Odds are, what you've written is better than they're ideal of what should have been written. Second--the warning made me more excited about the volume than I had been. Tusk has always been my favorite Fleetwood Mac album, but then, I've never been a huge Fleetwood Mac fan, so that doesn't mean much. Trucks' "warning" sent a clear message to me that said, "hey, this book could be a little bit bold--I like bold, let's read."

And read I did.

And to be honest, Rob Trucks has some serious chops. He does a nice job of navigating dueling stories about the creation of Tusk with moments from his own life which, at times, hardly seem relevant to the album, but which ultimately add up to some sort of psychic and/or spiritual homage to the album's creation and themes. What makes this even more impressive is that Trucks never condescends to his audience, never feels the need to explicitly explain the connection between the bits of memoir and the bits of Fleetwood Mac history. He lets us intuit the relationship. Let's us feel our ways in, around, and through his experiences and how they play off of Tusk. The end result is not just a book that is engaging and smart with a clear emotional core, but a beautifully written, ecstatically felt study of subjectivity and art that might even deserve a second read.

Of course, not everything is perfect in Trucks' take on Tusk. A few of the "What We Talk About When We Talk About Tusk" sections--in which Trucks interviews musicians about the album's influence on their careers--feel a bit tacked on and completely unnecessary and/or uninteresting. Avey Tare's insight into Tusk is about as interesting and relevant as his latest solo album (burn!) and the Walter Egan section, though only a few pages, is pretty boring.

All in all, though, Rob Trucks has delivered a fine volume in a run of great volumes for the 33 1/3 series. His prose is crisp and fresh and I enjoyed learning about Rob Trucks' relationship to Tusk as much as I enjoyed learning about the album itself.


Next up, Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle.

Friday, March 18, 2011

"We're Not Above Reviewing Leaks": Vivian Girls - Share the Joy

Ever since the Vivian Girls got their big break (relatively speaking) in 2008, they have been extremely busy. They have gone through two drummers, Frankie Rose (now with the Dum Dum Girls) and Ali Koehler (who subsequently joined Best Coast). They cut their vastly underrated second LP Everything Goes Wrong. They have also formed a record label (Wild World Records) and engaged in numerous side-projects. Cassie Ramone has recorded and toured as The Babies along with Woods bassist Kevin Morby. Kickball Katy Goodman has been especially active, releasing an EP and a 7" (including last year's most delicious shoegaze moment in "It'll Come Around") with Gregg Foreman as All Saints Day as well as a full-length, eponymous LP as La Sera, featuring two of the coolest videos made in the last eight months (check out the grim yet free-spirited clips for "Never Come Around" and "Devils Heart Grows Cold"). Oh, and it should also be noted that they have toured constantly in the meantime. So how did the Girls find the time to write songs and record their latest album Share the Joy? And is it any good?

Share the Joy is the Vivian Girls' third studio LP, their first for Polyvinyl Records. On it, they retain their jangly approach to pop and hardcore punk which is, as always, loaded with tasty girl-group harmonies. There are a few noteworthy developments here, though. Cassie Ramone's songwriting skills continue to improve. The group's harmonies are as lush as ever. Lastly, Cassie Ramone's guitar leads are more assured, more adventurous, often confidently straying away basic melody. It also boasts the best fidelity of their three albums thus far. While for most listeners this would appear to be a good thing, Share the Joy does lack the zestful naivete of their generally over-hyped debut (Vivian Girls) as well as the crisp immediacy and fury of Everything Goes Wrong. Lastly, new drummer Fiona Campbell lacks the precision of the recently departed Ali Koehler, but is still a vast improvement over Frankie Rose.

The album opens with the stunning "The Other Girls," the Girls' longest track to date (clocking in at six-and-a-half minutes). Cassie Ramone's simulated twelve-string jangle, along with Kickball Katy's insistent, thumping James Jamerson-inspired bassline, carry the listener on a journey that includes Ramone's most impressive guitar solo thus far. The album's first single, "Heard You Say," finds them in minor-chord pop terrain, highlighted by their hallmark vocal harmonies, especially during the chorus, and a guitar solo that sounds like it was played on a twelve-stringer. Songs like"Lake House" and "Trying to Pretend" retain the angst of the previous album with cleaner production. Share the Joy's most overt nod to 1960s girl groups comes by way of "Take It as It Comes," which has a spoken-word dialogue between Cassie Ramone and Kickball Katy that recalls the opening of The Shangri-Las' 1965 masterpiece "Leader of the Pack," albeit far more lighthearted, as its focus is on "boy problems" rather than, say, a fatal motorcycle crash. As a result, it is the most fun cut on the album. They don't stray away from the topic of mortality, though. They re-record "Death," which previously appeared on their limited edition 2009 7" for the song "Moped Girls." The album closes with another six minute track in "Light in Your Eyes," which essentially re-delivers the single "Heard You Say" with far more seriousness and scope. Share the Joy benefits from having the most variety of a Vivian Girls album to date. There is plenty to like here for fans and neophytes alike. While it lacks the sizzle of their previous album, Share the Joy reveals a group that is continually growing and redefining their aesthetic.

--Share the Joy will be released on CD and vinyl courtesy of Polyvinyl Records on April 12. It is currently available for MP3 downloading at Polyvinyl Records' website.