From Under the Cork Tree – Fall Out Boy

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It’s easy to dismiss Fall Out Boy due to the over-saturation of coverage about them and their reliance, specifically Pete Wentz’s reliance, on image over substance. However, the album that made them the powerhouse that they are today, From Under the Cork Tree, is so finely crafted that it’s hard for even the most cynical hater to completely dismiss it.

From Under the Cork Tree has one major strength – its instrumental arrangements are superb. Vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stump, who writes the music for the band, has a touch for detail and variation that far surpasses most of his genre’s peers. Each song has it’s own distinct sound while maintaining a hooky stickiness. The range encompasses everything from Van Halen-esque staccato guitar on “7 Minutes In Heaven (Atavan Halen)” to heavy sound of sliding drop D chords on the excellent “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More ‘Touch Me’.”

The main issue of contention with From Under the Cork Tree is the lyrical work. While Stump handles the music, it’s bassist Pete Wentz who handles the lyrics with varying levels of success. One moment catchy and clever wordplay is forefront and then out of nowhere come lines that are stomach churningly bad.
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The Death of Michael Jackson: Iconography & Revisionist History

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Michael Jackson is dead.

The media coverage is understandable. There was a period where he was probably the most famous person on earth. This was a man who made the best-selling album of all time, Thriller. Some of his music was undeniably fantastic and will live on forever.

That said, his passing shouldn’t be considered a tragedy.

Yes, it’s a tragedy for the people him personally; friends and family. It’s a tragedy for his children who are now without a father. As someone who has lost 2 loved ones in the past year I can safely say that for those people, an outpouring of anguish is justified.

But why are so many in the general public devastated?

I understand the powerful bond people have with wonderful music. Heck, it’s the core idea behind this website. But the music still is there. Every song in your MP3 player that was there two days ago is still there. This wasn’t a situation like Heath Leger or Kurt Kobain, where the performer was young and still had so much potential to put out more monumental art. The era of Micheal Jackson as “The King of Pop” was done well over a decade and a half ago. He was destined to become Fat Elvis, living out his days as a weird performer of his old hits. Sure people would go see him, but like the aging Elvis it would be more to say you saw him then for the highest quality entertainment.

However, the thing that really rubs me the wrong way about the whole thing is the massive dark cloud hanging over the whole situation:

The man was a pedophile.

Why does iconography absolve you of your sins in modern life? Are we that celebrity-driven as a culture?

Think about it, when was the last time a pedophile had a massive outpouring of support at time time of his death? What does this mean as a society that we’re willing to ignore something like this because Jackson sold a ton of records?

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Hospice – The Antlers

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From the foreboding flickering of “Prologue,” one can tell The Antler’s Hospice isn’t going to be a pleasant journey. Musical tremors of death course through this album about a hospice worker and patient coping with the inevitability of death. While that may not sound appealing, the execution is so graceful that it makes for an album that cannot be missed.

The Antlers is music from the mind of Peter Silberman, who began The Antlers as a solo project but has since expanded it into a true band. His voice is of the airy and wispy indie school. They’re similar to those of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, except The Antlers is not dreadfully boring like Bon Iver. Unlike most singers who fall into this category, his vocals have a piercing quality. When he sings on Hospice he becomes a true mouthpiece of the dying. When he expresses the characters anxieties in emotional bursts (like on “Sylvia”) it is genuine.

The instrumentals across the songs on Hospice are very similar. It’s mainly a blend of soft electronic ambiance, simple acoustic and electric guitars, and far away drums. While normally such an unchanging musical landscape grows tiresome, it is not the case with this album because it is all setting a mood. All the electronic buzzes sound like a radio signal of a person fading out as you drive away from it. It moves the listener, not allowing them to become detached.
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Cursive Live: Timid Lightening

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“I’ve been waiting seven years to see this band.”

So said a friend as we were waiting around the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company (The Garage) for Cursive. And this sentiment was dead on. Billings, Montana (and for that matter the 5 state radius of MT, ID, WY, ND, & SD) are lucky to get a handful of great shows a year. So when Saddle Creek vets Cursive made the band’s first ever stop in the Big Sky state last Saturday, it was an event.

The opening act, Box Elders, seemed so out of place. An band that plays an indie brand of surf punk doesn’t exactly put one in the mood for the intricacies of Cursive. But hey, they had a drummer who played while standing (which I’ve never seen before) and while playing an organ, so at least that was interesting.

When Cursive took the stage to a chorus of deep nicotine coated and a few scattered feminine shrieks, the band immediately launched into an extensive set. It was composed of a nice balance of career spanning tracks from Domestica, The Ugly Organ, Happy Hollow, and the new release Mama, I’m Swollen.

It was easy to tell from the get go that these guys weren’t inexperienced upstarts, they were veterans who knew what they’re doing. It takes reps to seamlessly blend technical precision with flailing energy. The pace of the show was wonderfully unrelenting. From the wailing of “Sierra” to the slower tempo of “Let Me Up,” there was no down point. Frontman Tim Kasher sported a slightly maniacal grin for most of the show, which only added to the mood. His vocals were quite remarkable, instantaneously changing from a soft feminine falsetto whisper to a forceful full-throated bellow. This contrast was on full display during The Ugly Organ’s “The Recluse.”

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Fewer Moving Parts – David Bazan

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When Pedro the Lion ceased to be and frontman David Bazan went solo, it seemed like an odd choice. This is because for most of the time of PtL’s existence the band was only Bazan. The unusual choice led to a similarly unusual, albeit interesting EP, Fewer Moving Parts. It is composed of five songs, each one done once as a full band, electric arrangement and done once just with Bazan and an acoustic guitar. This raises the question, which version of each song is the superior offering?

“Selling Advertising”

The first track serves as an attack on Pitchfork and music journalists in general. However, the lyrics aren’t sharp enough to pull off the desired effect. Other than Bazan’s vocals, the band version is very synthetic sounding. The acoustic side debuts the overproduction, especially on the doubling of vocals, that plagues Fewer Moving Parts.
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Queen Of A Scene & A Classroom

The room is filled with the chatter; a slew of different conversations that bleed into one. Most occupants are experiencing a solid caffeine buzz, each eager ear perking up at every sonic change.
Chrisy Riddle rules this domain. It is her environment; her world. It is just another day in the life of a high school English teacher. Or is this a common day as the owner of a trendy coffee shop? Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the two.

By day, Riddle is teacher at Central Valley High School. By night, she is the co-owner of the Empyrean Coffee House (along with her sister Michelle), where she works as a barista, event booker, and promoter. No one around her seems to understand quite how she manages to pull it off. She doesn’t either.

“I just kind of survive from moment to moment,” says Riddle.


Art Is Hard

“The Empyrean is the best thing to happen to the Spokane music scene in a really long time,” says Erik Walters, a member of Seattle indie rock band The Globes.

Spokane gets a bad rap among musicians, but The Globes always try to convince other bands to make a stop at the Empyrean. It is different. It is not what they would expect. He points to Riddle as the reason for the venue’s success, mainly because of her constant commitment to the music.

“A lot of people owe her a big thank you.”

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21st Century Breakdown – Green Day

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With American Idiot, Green Day conquered the world. Not only was the album a colossal commercial juggernaut, it was critically heralded as an artistic masterpiece. So it’s really no surprise that the band’s follow-up, 21st Century Breakdown, would fail to be as good. The troubling aspect is that it’s just not good period.

The failure mainly stems from being lyrically awful. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Billy Joe Armstrong once again tries to tell a narrative of love amidst a dreadful modern life, one full of injustices worth rising up against. However, none of his points are pointed. To put it bluntly, it’s hard to tell what the hell he’s talking about. For an album that is clearly supposed to seem vital and gripping, it’s amazing how passively one can listen to it.

On the opener, “21st Century Breakdown,” Armstrong heavy-handedly sings, “video games and the towers fall, homeland security could kill us all.” But the song really has no clear message other than that life sucks. The problem persists on “Know Your Enemy.” By the end of it Armstrong is barking like a rabid dog to, “give me, give me revolution!” Ironically, the song gives no clue to exactly who this enemy is, let alone what they did to warrant an insurgency to rise up against them. “Last Of The American Girls” is almost archetypal example of how to force lyrics, the worst of which being, “She’s a runaway of the establishment incorporated.” It seems like the band threw a bunch of buzzwords regarding alienation and rebellion into a blender and spewed out the resulting muck.
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