Eleven eleven! Happy secular holiday! Make your secular wish.
CAR CRASH | IDLES I often wonder about trying to explain the difference between punk and metal to a toddler—when the difference is almost entirely ideological, I’m not sure any distinction would really make sense at that level. As the toddler in this scenario, I’m still surprised whenever people call attention to it; just the other day, I was wearing a trucker jacket, cuffed jeans, and docs to someone’s birthday dinner, and a long-haired, battle-jacketed metalhead looked me up and down and was like, “you a greaser?” Which, like, I’m not sure West Side Story is punk, though I guess neither is using a semicolon, but I get what he was going for. Luckily, I’m not the most well versed in metal or punk, and he was a super nice guy, so this only lead to a fun music conversation, but as with all manufactured metal versus punk discourse, it really got me thinking about how strange the whole rivalry is. Historically, whereas metal achieves its bombastic sounds via virtuosic musicianship, punk is designed so that anyone oppressed or spurned by homogenous society can pick up a guitar and make it sound angry—or, as my metalhead friend more eloquently said, “it sounds like shit on purpose.” You can see where the pretentious sellout and talentless lunatic dichotomy might emerge there, with shamelessly commercial metal bands like KISS in the 70s adding fuel to a barely-lit fire, but to me, the two were always meant to be inseparable. In the end, both aim to give a finger to homogeneity and the status quo, exploring the darkness, anger, and sadness in all of us and expressing it in a much healthier way than the repression that an image-based society encourages. Where metal brings the atmosphere and epic storytelling that elevates these feelings to mythic status, punk brings the irreverence, attitude, and unbridled anger that can mobilize the underprivileged people of a nation. I say all of this less to educate and more because I’m trying to convince myself I like both, because, that’s right, I’ve been infected. I’ve noticed something primal shifting in my brain. This is the part of the speech, by the way, where I reveal the festering zombie bite I’ve been hiding, which explains all of my weird growling and mouth foam earlier (nobody noticed because “denial” or something. It’s the apocalypse, cut them some slack). That’s right, the more I’m exposed to this meaningless discourse, the more I start to fell gravity shifting me towards a side, and that side is more often metal. Never beating the pretentious allegations here on Max Todd Dot Com. I’m sure I’ll be taking all of this back in no time, but as it stands now, when the chips are down, I’ll always side with art and the emotional expression that comes with it. I’m well aware of how necessary punk is, but having grown up around cooler-than-you contrarians, I can confidently say that caring about nothing except carelessness is the least cool anyone can be. Punk (as I understand it) can’t grow without sacrificing its core values—it just keeps punching the wall until it’s got two bloody nubs. Like, what even is post-punk anyways? Alternative & Punk? How does that make sense?? Punk is the definition of alternative, the alternative of alternative is normal! Are we gonna have to talk about genres again? I’m too riled up to stop now. That video’s gonna drop without warning when everyone least expects it, myself included.
Right, um, anyways, song. In the end, who cares about all of that ideological crap anyways? Well, me, for one, but how music feels is always first priority. The punk I like usually itches the same scratch that metal does with its abrasive, angry, and overwhelming noise. Thankfully, IDLES has plenty of all three to go around sung in the best cockney accent I’ve heard since Michael Caine (they’ve got glottal stops for days). My favorite stuff from IDLES is always their more melodic offerings (one of which I have slated for next week, stay tuned), but a lot of their songs make me feel the way getting yelled at on the street does on the first go around. “Car Crash” is one such song that took me a few listens to enjoy. For most of its runtime, it doesn’t have a lot going on musically beyond a looped, single-note baseline that would be right at home backing a rap or even a trailer if it had different percussion. While the wonderfully mustachioed Joe Talbot barks vocals like rush hour traffic, we’re treated to an almost imperceptible build, something I never anticipate given how loud it starts. About two-thirds of the way through the song, though, things shift, and for me, that’s where things get really interesting for me. As the club-y bass goes higher, it’s suddenly re-contextualized by a meandering, slithering guitar and suddenly more melodic, fragile vocals. While the thrumming march of the song never disappears, everything suddenly feels like it’s been on this path for some time now, and as things come to a crashing conclusion, it all feels earned.
PRAISE YOU | Fatboy Slim Moving to something far more feel-good, we’ve got a late-90s classic from Fatboy Slim that I thought I’d have way less to say about, but since we’re in long-form mode already, I’m just gonna pull back the rubber band and see what happens. Firstly, without the cultural context, I’m such a big fan of how this song emphasizes its electronic and sampled elements rather than trying to disguise them as organic. A lot of times, I see modern music production techniques scoffed at for sounding heartless on top of talentless, which is a critique that, in my eyes, just collapses in the face of a song like this. With its clipped samples that start a little too early or late, making the loop click like it’s somehow snagged, this song creates such a homemade quality, exposing the heart behind it. It doesn’t hurt that this song is incredibly catchy, too.
It’s also worth noting, though, that accompanying this song comes what MTV voted their best music video of all time. Directed by Spike Jonze, it’s… some people. In public. Dancing? On a cheap camera. I’ll put it here, see what you think before you make any judgments:
I don’t know, man. For me, seeing the top comment from user Tommy declare “The YouTube generation will never understand how baffling and exhilarating it was to witness this bit of counterculture appear on cable television in 1998,” immediately engages cocked eyebrow mode in my brain. Even so, when I watch this video, I can’t help but smile. The comments have parroted this to death already, but I do think it’s worth acknowledging how incredibly human this video is. See for yourself.
KING OF THE MOUNTAIN | Kate Bush I’ve veered way into Kate Bush spoilers from later in career than I’ve allowed myself to venture, but here we are with a track from her penultimate album, Aerial. For once, I don’t know any of the context for this album, but I’m pleased to say that it reminds me of David Bowie’s contemporaneous 2000s music. Like Bowie, Kate Bush’s voice has aged into a richer but restrained tone here, which almost gives it the sound of a completely different vocalist. Undoubtedly, there’s still a theatrical gravitas to it, but she just isn’t as bombastic as in her earlier music. Out of context, that might seem unsettling or even disappointing, but that could not be further from the truth. Also like Bowie, this song appears to be experimenting with electronic sounds reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails, leaning into the modern trend of shedding melody for building an atmosphere—in this case, a pulsing, bubbling crawl that builds to a blossoming crescendo. Here, her voice really comes through, billowing through like wind through creaking windows while the ethereal background hums higher. I mean, I don’t know, it’s Kate Bush, need I say more? The answer is yes, by the way. There’s another Kate Bush song. We’re doubling up this week.
SAVE ME | Aimee Mann But first, a little heartbreak! From the movie Magnolia (which I, a poser, have not seen), Aimee Mann delivers a pleading, defeated song to put every other sadgirl singer to shame. Speaking of distinctive voices, I’ve thought something was interesting about Aimee Mann’s voice since I was a kid, though I didn’t have the stomach for the emotional lows she reached back then. I can’t tell if her voice is lower or just somehow thicker (if that even makes sense), but it ends up feeling very honest without losing any technical prowess. The depth of this yearning to be saved (or spared) is very tangible, and even if this song isn’t musically the most depressing stuff out there, it still hits deeper than most for me.
KITE | Kate Bush So that’s why it’s happy time! Shove all that sad down like you can’t afford to buy new trash bags! Let’s go! Kate Bush, everyone! Raaaah, raaaaah! To backwards-bookend our foray into late Kate, I’ve picked another song off of her debut album The Kick Inside because I absolutely didn’t talk about it enough last time we dipped our toes into it here. It’s become one of my favorite Kate Bush records since then—it’s so full of glee and wonder even in its more contemplative moments. Where “The Man With The Child In His Eyes” or “Wuthering Heights” have probably been talked to death (and I’m not sure I could do them justice here, anyways), “Kite” was sort of a surprise for me that had me smiling like an idiot from the first riff. One of the most 70s songs from The Kick Inside, “Kite” falls somewhere between funk and reggae, complete with cheesy synth noises and a laid-back (but not lazy) bounce in its melody. Like the rest of the album, it’s far more musically complex pop, with the chorus shifting both key and time signature (moving from 4/4 to 6/4) without a single bump in the road. If there lyrics are anything to go by, this song should be horrifying, and horrifyingly far from its bubbly tone—it could be interpreted metaphorically many ways, but its literal narrative charts transforming into a kite and losing all anchor to the ground (which should sound familiar to just about everybody). Still, it’s got such a perky way of relating this nightmare, with the “down, down, down!” at 1:52 being another gold medal line delivery alongside Julian Cope’s “sweedeedee” from last week.
And from just three years earlier come today’s lovely surrealist critters, depicted by Leonora Carrington in De la Hierba Santa. One of my favorite surrealists is Remedios Varo, who we talked about in August, but Leonora has been creeping right up behind her after I was able to see some of her work on display, wait for it, at the Denver Art Museum (this time, check out their Latin American Art wing). I’m a real sucker for creatures of all sorts, and this particular brand of surrealist beast that’s depicted with textural realism but totally out-of-whack proportions and depth is something that could be done a million times and I’d still love it. Carrington’s art is said to regularly reflect the apocalypse, but I don’t, the world feels a little nicer if there’s a greasy little guy climbing plants to give you spoonfuls of blue, you know? Certainly feels anti-punk to me.