Fences Feature From The Inlander

Judging a Book

What you see isn’t really what you get with Fences.

If you brought Fences’ Christopher Mansfield home to mom, she might have a minor freak-out. Between the face and neck tattoos and the dangling gauged earlobes, he’s hardly the ideal all-American boy.

But if given the chance to sing your dear mother a tune, Mansfield could melt away her judgments with his vulnerable soft pop melodies. He might even make her swoon. Actually, that could be a problem, too. Bottom line: Don’t bring Christopher Mansfield home to mom.

But still, after all the success Mansfield has seen in the year since releasing his first LP, there still remains some dissonance between his music and his aforementioned appearance. Music fans are not accustomed to their understated emotional songwriters looking like they’d be more at home playing guitar at a basement hardcore show.

Mansfield says he is well past the point of noticing or caring about these judgments.

“I just look how I want to look and sound how I want to sound. I’m not trying to sell a f–ing package,” he says. “It could look that way, but if my look doesn’t match with my sound, it’s just honestly ‘cause it’s what I like.

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Walls – An Horse

Ausie pop-rock duo An Horse’s latest effort Walls explores the ever fertile thematic grounds of the long-distance relationship with bubbly pep, sincerity, big guitar hooks, and some killer drumming. It’s a perfect summertime respite from the overly-shinny sounds emanating from passing car’s radios.

An Horse frontwoman Kate Cooper appears to have taken some ques from tour buddies Tegan & Sara when it comes crafting self-pitying songs that still maintain feminine strength. Walls is almost overwhelming in its earnestness. The sentiment is carried not only by Cooper’s voice, but the choice details she emotes. The lyrically specifics she uses help ground the songs in a diary writing reality. In part this is due to some of the songs not really making total sense (bear with me on this point.) The album’s opener “Dressed Sharply” is essentially a song about written letters – only it focuses heavily on style of dress. The chorus’s key lyric is “A yellow shirt and a blue jacket” and the song ends with the refrain “Dressed so sharply, you know I will read, every word that you send me.” Now that’s not a logistical flow (I myself can read letters perfectly fine slumming it in basketball shorts and an old t-shirt), but as a songwriter, making that choice and delivering it so honestly clearly indicates it’s importance. Because An Horse commits to a line like this it doesn’t seem silly or frivolous. The situation holds true on “Not Mine” with the line “You said alright, that’s enough Twin Peaks for one night.” It doesn’t seem like merely a heady way to tie together a rhyme, but instead feels like a page torn from Cooper’s experience.

However, not all of the Cooper’s writing works. “No This, We’ve Noticed” attempts to work as a slow emotional build about a friend’s issues, but is undermined by it’s repetition. The main line – “Know this, we’ve noticed that you’re not fine” – is clever on its first pass, but when the phrase is repeated 13 times it becomes unbearably grating.

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Filter Feature From The Inlander

Loud Quiet Loud

Filter’s Richard Patrick has finally realized he doesn’t have to put his hand through a wall to rock.

Richard Patrick seems a bit unsettled, but that’s kind of how he likes it. Filter, the band that he formed back in 1993, has undergone its fair share of sonic transformations over the years. And those have garnered Patrick a reputation as an eclectic rocker. Their two biggest hits illustrate a dichotomy between industrial rock and shiny pop.

“People still can’t believe ‘Hey Man, Nice Shot’ and ‘Take a Picture’ are from the same band,” says Patrick. “I literally feel like maybe I should do two records next time. One record just literally [like Filter’s industrial debut] Short Bus and the other record totally glisten-y ‘Take a Picture’ stuff.”

Patrick’s industrial roots come from his days as a guitarist for Nine Inch Nails during that band’s formative years. But he and Filter co-founder Brian Liesegang (who was also in Nine Inch Nails) didn’t want to just copy and paste Trent Reznor’s formula, despite how well it was working.

“It’s funny, because half of the stuff we learned from Nine Inch Nails, Brian and I purposefully forgot. Cause we were like, ‘Well, we can’t do that.’”

Short Bus was industrial on a garage-band level, even employing a drum machine because neither Patrick nor Liesegang knew a drummer. The lo-fi soul of that first record is still a point of pride for Patrick, who sees it in cinematic terms.

“When I see a movie like Transformers, where it’s just like extremely glisten-y, shiny, Michael Bay — Nine Inch Nails or other synth projects seem to be like Transformers. And Short Bus was The Blair Witch Project,” he says.

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Toad the Wet Sproket Feature From The Inlander

After the Revolution

Toad the Wet Sprocket got huge in the 1990s. But today, they’re OK with being a small indie band.

The early ’90s were a weird time in rock. And Toad the Wet Sprocket fit the era. Playing a non-abrasive brand of alt-rock, the California band had a run of modern rock hits like “Walk on the Ocean,” “All I Want,” and “Something’s Always Wrong.” The band’s lone No. 1 hit on the modern rock charts, “Fall Down,” knocked the first Green Day hit (“Longview”) out of the top spot — one that had been dominated by singles from heavier, harder bands like Soundgarden, Blur and Stone Temple Pilots.

And when Toad got knocked out of that spot seven weeks later, it was by the Offspring’s first hit, “Come Out and Play.”

In that musical landscape, when radio stations were still open-format and DJ-driven, Toad the Wet Sprocket fit in between the genre cracks, finding a loyal audience and turning out a handful of hits. It also helped that listeners still paid for music, which meant record labels were flush with cash.

Today, Toad the Wet Sprocket’s singer and guitarist, Glen Phillips, also points out that the influx of income allowed labels not only to take more chances but to be patient with artists.

“Our label allowed us to go nine months into our third record before we put out ‘All I Want,’” he says. “I feel like we worked hard and did good work, but we were really fortunate in our timing.”

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The Problem With Klosterman’s “Rock VORP”

A few weeks ago, Chuck Klosterman wrote a piece entitled “Rock VORP” for the new sports/pop culture website Grantland. Being a massive Klosterman and Grantland fan, I was excited by the prospect of Klosterman attempting to turn rock music into a measurable baseball-esque sabermetric statistic. Rather than try to explain his process in a convoluted manner, I’ll let him do the talking:

Several weeks ago, key members of the Bill Simmons Institute for Randomly Idealized Utopian Statistics (B-SIRIUS) asked me to create a formula that mirrored the popular baseball statistic VORP, an acronym for “Value Over Replacement Player.” The VORP metric (popularized by MIT-schooled Baseball Prospectus writer Keith Woolner) attempts to isolate the merits of a particular hitter or pitcher in comparison to a fictional “replacement player” — a hypothetical strawman who’s an average fielder and a mediocre hitter. “Would it be possible,” pondered the ever-pondering Simmons, “to create an identical statistic for music in the popular genre of rock ‘n’ roll?” In other words, is there a mathematical way to calculate how essential a given musician is to his or her band, and would it then be possible to extrapolate that artist’s value in comparison to other artists in competing groups?

The formula Klosterman devises divides the various aspects of any band into 100 points six categories which together total 100 points: songwriting (40 points), sonic contribution (20 points), visual impact (10 points), live performance (10 points), attitude (5 points), and intangibles (15 points). A band member is awarded a certain share of points in each category resulting in a gross VORM score (which I assume stands for “Value Over Replacement Musician” – somehow the piece never excitedly states what the a acronym stands for). Then the musician’s score is divided by the number of members in their band in order to get the more balanced and useful Adjusted Rock VORM (ARV). A generic replacement musician would have an AVR of 1.0.

There are certainly some flaws with the basic formula. Most noteworthy is the way having set caps for each category punishes a performer for being in a band that is balanced in any one of the categories. This is especially the case with regards to the live performance category. Take a band like The Hives. Every member of the band expels a tremendous amount of energy and it makes the group’s live sets absolutely electric. Meanwhile, a band like Modest Mouse often seems to be going through the motions live, but frontman Isaac Brock clearly is the centerpiece of their live energy. The Hives split the 10 points with each member only getting a few points because they all rock. Modest Mouse has to divvy up the same 10 points, however Brock gets the lion’s share of the points because as he goes, so goes Modest Mouse’s live set. Despite being the key to a live band that always leaves me wanting more, Brock would get more points than Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist.

There are other minor quibbles. For example, Klosterman claims that when breaking down The White Stripes in the attitude category that Jack “I’m Literally ALL This Band’s Attitude” White gets only 1 point, but Meg “I Gave the Attitude and Charisma of a Limp Dead Fish” White gets 4. (Note: those are not their actual nicknames. At least, not to my knowledge.) But focusing too much on these issues is picking nits. The much bigger problem comes when Klosterman attempts to take his formula further with “Real” Rock VORM (RRV). Continue reading