Satire, Punk and Politics

A look at the hype that shapes our world. North American Hallowe’en Prevention Initiative, “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?” (Vice Records) All-star musical collaborations go hand in hand with tragedy, and this is a satirical poke at the phenomenon — ring-led by Nick Diamonds (ex-Unicorns), produced by Steven McDonald (ex-Redd Kross), and featuring an assortment of indie-identified guest stars who will appeal to hipsters young (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Arcade Fire, Devendra Banhart) and old (Sonic Youth, Roky Erickson, Beck). The press release says it’s a response to other benefit songs’ “misguided, somewhat patronizing attitude,” but the post-Katrina timing is off. It’s hard to fault the parties involved (they’re giving the proceeds to UNICEF), but frankly, after Kanye West’s controversial candor on NBC’s televised Katrina benefit, this indie-rockin’ gesture seems particularly ineffectual. Official Website:

Festival Madness What’s more worthy of protest is the explosion of Coachella-inspired, niche-oriented music festivals popping up like mushrooms at a Dead show. October alone brings us the Download Festival in Mountain View, the hippie/indie mix of Las Vegas’ Vergoose and the alt-rock-flavored Across the Narrows in New York. Am I the only one who prefers to see my favorite artists à la carte, rather than being force-fed a whole buffet?

TV on the Radio “Dry Drunk Emperor” (Touch & Go) Speaking of Bush-bashing black people, listen to this mostly African-American indie rock band: “Did you buy the bull they sold you/that the bullets and the bombs/and all the strong arms/would bring home security?/All eyes upon/dry drunk emperor.” Free on their label’s Web site, the song — dedicated to Katrina victims — sounds fuzzy yet luminous, apocalyptic, biblical; filled with massed vocals that belie a band with many strong personalities. Also notable: Lichens’ The Psychic Nature of Being (Kranky), a new solo project by TVoTR associate Rob Lowe (ex–90 Day Men). Dry Drunk Emperor mp3: Mobius Band/Matisayahu Has there ever been an odder couple than these two, who toured America last month? Hasidic Jewish reggae performer Matisayahu, popular on the jam-band circuit, is reliant on novelty, while also reclaiming a genre long obsessed with Lions from Zion. By contrast, the Mobius Band makes subtle pop laced with electronics and sung in melodic deadpan by vocalists Peter Sax and Ben Sterling. Their song about cubicle life, “Twilight,” is about 99 times more relevant to most listeners than a million songs of romance or protest: “I will keep my shit office job/Sideline dreams are run from the law/You should always try/Not to aim too high.” Twilight mp3: Gogol Bordello, Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike (SideOneDummy) Eugene Hütz is an anarchic urban gypsy from the Ukraine; a flamboyantly mustachioed scenestealer in the new film Everything is Illuminated; and a minor NYC celebrity for his DJ gig at the Mehanata Bulgarian Bar. There he pioneers mash-up genres like Balkan reggaeton and klezmer dub. His punky, multi-culti band Gogol Bordello, who played 2005’s Warped Tour, has long tried to conflate those sounds with Hütz’s iconic persona; this Steve Albini–produced album succeeds, presenting memorable songs and a fully formed worldview — one part politics (“Immigrant Punk,” “Underdog World Strike”) and many parts libidinous party drunk (“Think Locally, Fuck Globally”). Not a Crime mp3: Official website: Tom Vek, We Have Sound (Startime International) Biographical details on this 24-year-old Londoner are elusive, and his music is equally mysterious. The ambiance is lo-fi and reminds me of the Strokes’ faux-garage production, but Vek’s songs are funky, future-focused and reliant on OCD rhythmic details — ringing guitar strings, tight drum patterns, repetitious bleeps. He shares affinities with the stuttering electronic musicians on Warp Records, but Vek isn’t just a freak for new soundz. He also contributes elliptical, emotionally resonant lyrics. In an era of Gang of Four ripoffs, Vek is the rare musician to improve upon their expertise in concision, emotional politics, and danceability. "I Ain't Saying My Goodbyes" mp3: tomvek/iaintsayingmy/audio/iaintsayingmy_192.mp3 Wolf Parade,Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop) It’s hard being the “next big thing” from the “next Seattle” (née Omaha, Brooklyn). Not so hard is touring with the Arcade Fire, having your debut produced by Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and getting it released by an indie juggernaut. This Montreal buzz band couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, but I’m impressed by their eccentric use of keyboards, their names (Spencer Krug! Hadji Bakara!) and their song “I’ll Believe in Anything” (“Nobody knows you/And nobody gives a damn”). It’s as inspiring, sad and profound as an indie-rock anthem could be. I'll Believe in Anything mp3:'ll%20Believe%20In%20Anything.mp3 You Are a Runner mp3:

The Curious Case of Green Day The new clip for Green Day’s power ballad “Wake Me Up Before September Ends” was made by the director of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, and it’s similarly daring. It begins with two lovers in a field, sharing intimacies. Later, during a melodramatic interlude, the girl expresses shock at something horrible the boy has done. Cheat on her? Commit a crime? No, he’s volunteered for the war in Iraq. Cut to scenes from the battlefront. Horrible and criminal? Very possibly. An interesting extension of punk rock’s emotional range? Yes. Green Day play the Home Depot Center in Carson, October 7-8. Wake Me Up Before September Ends video:

Lightning Bolt, Hypermagic Mountain (Load Records) If you prefer punk that’s pure and obscure, this duo from Providence, Rhode Island, are as credible as they come. Bassist Brian Gibson scribbles furiously distorted riffs over low drones, while drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale babbles away and attacks his set like a jazzman during an extended solo. It’s dense and hyperactive, much like their live show: They set up in the middle of the crowd and just go, forming a cyclone of bodies around them. Their fourth record would be more listenable if it were more varied, but I guess you don’t go to a slaughterhouse for fresh fruit. Official website: John Loder (1946–2005) On the morning of August 13, John Loder died of complications stemming from a brain aneurysm suffered in 2004. We’ve lost a great man. Loder was sound engineer on classic albums by bands like the Jesus & Mary Chain, Fugazi and Crass, but his true achievement came farther behind the scenes, as the shrewd and honorable businessman in charge of Southern, a stridently independent distribution network that has supported a boggling array of bands and labels. Loder’s eccentric tastes and fiercely self-sufficient outlook are, in many ways, the Rosetta stone for indie rock. Or as Ian MacKaye put it on the blog Loder’s daughter created in his honor: “His distracted ease behind the wheel of a car could at times make for a harrowing ride, but we always made it there.” The world of music is not the same without him. Memorial:

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