Paste has become a terrible magazine

Over my 3 year subscription to Paste Magazine, this year I’ve watched it fall from its status of an enlightened Entertainment Weekly  to becoming as vapid as Entertainment Weekly, but without the topicality or access. They also now take about 8 minutes to read cover-to-cover.

First, there was the layout change. If used to be staid, at least it made sense. Now it looks like the half-assed product of a coked-up student-run high school newspaper that hasn’t yet learned exactly to use its new layout program.

Second, there’s what they said about Cormac McCarthy.

Nihilism is now so universally confused with profundity that even the serious literary establishment can’t see that Cormac McCarthy is really just Stephen King without the entertainment value.

What!?! This is more wrongheaded than calling Marcel Proust just a scribomanic shut-in or Moby Dick just an unfocused travelogue.

And now, its annual top 25 list. Strike 3, I’m done.

My Mourning Jacket’s Evil Urges at 16? Of Montreal’s Skeletal Lamping at 12! Hold Steady’s Stay Positive at 11!?! Okkervil River’s The Stand Ins at 5???

These are all great bands and decent albums, but these are not their best efforts. And compared to best efforts that don’t even rank (Frightened Rabbit! The Kills! Thao! King Kahn! Wolf Parade! The Ruby Suns! Vivian Girls! Lambchop! Black Mountain! The Dodos! Mount Eerie!) makes it all the more apparent the Paste staff got lazy and gave out some easy passes to these typical end-of-the-year listmakers.

And Girl Talk at 7!!! Is some kind of statement? Do these people even like music?

Even though I hate it, I’m expecting high rankings for the Jar Jar Binks of Indie Rock. So no surprise they show up at 3. Whatever.

Then, She and Him…the album of the year?!!? Sure, it’s easily likeable, so maybe it was easy to build consensus. But they’re the Alan Thicke of Indie Rock: blandly handsome. Try not getting bored after 4 spins. Compare with Bon Iver (#4) or Deerhunter (#10) and it’s not even in the same league. And shouldn’t Zooey Deschanel pay for the The Happening?

Plus, the Reigning Sound may still put out an album this year. No accounting for that possibility whatsoever.

I throw up my hands, Paste. If I can still name my price for a subscription, I want all my exclamation points back.

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Jerry Grit’s Year in Albums #6: April-July (Part 4)

I’m so near the halfway point in my documentation of every album I buy this year. Appropriate time as any to rechristen this project the “Year in Albums”, since I’m finding a hard time limiting myself to download purchases. I’m still buying CDs, can you believe?

  • Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea Somewhere along the way, I get it in my head that Cassie Berman was destined to be the Linda McCartney of this band that I like. It may have been an off night or bad sound, but at one show I saw she came across as pretty but also as the band’s tuneless weak link. After one listen of the new album, I know either I was way wrong or she got way better. She is now the absolute highlight. There’s the usual tossed-off witty Berman wordplay (“Romance is the douche of the bourgeoisie/Was the very first thing she imparted to me”; “Things get kind of squirrely when you’re sleeping in the park”; “We could be looking for the same thing, if you’re looking for someone,” etc). But her vocals bring the emotive that nicely contrasts with Dave’s deadpan on “Suffering Jukebox” and others, which actually saves the album from cleverness (a fatal opponent in Silver Jews discography).
  • Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Underground Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Underground” is like an A-Team episode, but instead of the A-Team stuck in the garage, it’s Stephen Merritt stuck in a half-functioning 70’s-era studio. And the plan that comes together isn’t a souped-up beater with a bunch crap welded to it, but an album of catchy oddball pop songs but made from the beat-up crap you’d find in said studio. It borders unlistenable, but it’s still fun.
  • The Dodos – Visitor I like it, but I have a heard time coming up with anything to say about it. I think because I’m trying the same thing they’re doing, so as their choices are awesome, they’re also self-evident to me. There are great vocals, stripped down instrument-wise to guitar and assorted rhythm toys. A great summer album.
  • Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes What a bunch of softies. I kind of want to get these boys into a gym or arm-wrestle them or something. The interplay of voices is awesome and pretty, but I haven’t ever wanted to listen to old Rollins Band albums until I sat through these guys. It’s great for Grandmas and people actually living in Cincinnatti.
  • Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer My socks are still securely on after listening to this, and I can’t say they were after listening to their first one. But still, I like it. But that “California Dreamer” song is terrible. What the hell are California dreams?
  • Cursive – The Ugly Organ This is an older album and I bought after seeing Cursive live. I don’t know why I stayed away from Cursive for so long. I really liked “Happy Hollow” and I think Tim Kasher’s sadder side-project The Good Life has put out two top notch albums. I kept them from the full embrace they deserved after they got coded “emo” in my head. I have been so brave this month overcoming my wrong impressions. This album is a freaking indictment of the “emo” bs (“I want to entertain/but they want pain” or something like that). Get ready for the full Grity embrace, buddies.
  • Sarabeth Tucek – Sarabeth Tucek I’m a sucker for this longing pretty lady shtick. The Heather Novas and the Cat Powers will get me. Sarabeth is in their league. May have too much of a resemblance to be remembered though. It may take some time to hear some nuances.
  • The Ruby Suns – Sea Lion I love albums like these. Listenable, but strange. Like a Caribbean Yo La Tengo, but way more emphasis on rhythm. Not that this would mean anything to you, but I had a perfect moment with this album driving out of Chicago at dusk into a pink urban sky

Holy mole. I might be done for these past 3 months. I think. Oh wait. Got the new Pinback album. Crap…and The Kills and The Eternals (that’s a funny pair). And Portishead. And for some reason, Jay-Z. And I’m sure some other less noteworthies.

Jerry Grit’s Year in Albums #5: April-July (Part 3)

I swear to freaking god I will get this multi-part posting done before the end of July. But oh my tribulations continue! Brand new iPod #5 will not be recognized by my aged Mac. Planned obsolescence, my ass. It’s more like obligatory obsolescence. Anyone have a grand so I can get my $200 iPod to work? In 2 words, boowl sheett. This obviously complicates the ongoing project to document every album I buy this year. But continued however daunted I will.

  • The Hold Steady – Stay Positive  Like their live performance, this album gets me despite myself. Maybe it’s just that they’re filling the void left by the Afghan Whigs of making references to Roman Catholic ritual in inappropriate situations. But I don’t embrace it completely. The subject material seems to be pandering to brats, as usual. And then there’s that creepy-ass gravely back-up vocal that pops up unexpected and unwelcomed throughout the album. Who the hell is that and who thought that was a good idea? But these are nitpicks. I bought it, I’ll love it.  BTW…is it just me or is Craig Finn sounding more and more like Will Farrell’s Harry Carey impersonation?
  • My Brightest Diamond – A Thousand Shark’s Teeth  It’s been harder to get into this one, unlike the now canonical Bring Me the Workhorse. I’ll blame myself. It doesn’t assert it self like last one. The songs have their own logic it seems and maybe I need to “learn how to listen” or something. I’ll keep listening, and maybe learning. Shana Worden (my dream aunt) and operatic flourishes are worthy teachers.
  • Spiritualized – Songs In A&E  I was not to jazzed by his live show at Pitchfork, but I do love this album. It’s like a blissed-out Blur or a sad-but-willing-to-please Pink Floyd.
  • King Khan And The Shrines – The Supreme Genius of King Khan and The Shrines  Definitely canon-bound. To be sure, this band need to be experienced live. But this album captures the vibe pretty sufficiently. It has the proper grubby sound that makes the soul-punk-funk thing work. Too often, the tendency is to clean up the sound when you have so many great musicians and instruments. Not here. The thrill is preseved as it comes across as some washed up gem from a raucous 50’s Memphis garage band (Think Reigning Sound with a horn section).
  • Extra Golden – Hera Ma NonoIt sounds nice enough. The songs run a little long with little more purpose than to groove. But it’s nice to have some Kenyan grooves break up the whiney whiteys I am habitually drawn to…Crap, I already wrote about this one. Ah, I’m losing track.
  • Joan As Police Woman – To Survive  I like this a lot. I like it even more than the last one if only because Antony is not moaning all over it. There are also better collaborations, including a great one with Rufus. Even though these are some complex-sounding compositions, it kind of sounds like a throwback to Sade at times, and I never got into Sade. That antiseptic sexy is a lie (sexy is germy). So sometimes listening to this I get that awful feeling I get when I’m trapped listening to “cool rock” radio stations. But it’s only momentary. I forgive her these moments because “To Be Lonely” is about the best ever.
  • The War On Drugs – Wagonwheel Blues I love this one so far and it’s definitely canon-bound. It’s overflowing with great lyrics and catchy times. I hate to think of who they remind me of, because that list will have some real monsters on it (like James or Ryan Adams).
  • Puerto Muerto – I Was A Swallow I want to like this more than I do simply because I like the idea of Puerto Muerto so much. The husband-wife doing gothic themed tunes. But I hate the say it, because I’m sure they heard it a 1,000 times, but the Handsome Family does it better. But where as the Family are more like backwoods gothic, the Muertos sound a little more worldly. Like pirate gothic to the Family’s American gothic. And her vocals are much more powerful. So it’s a mixed bag. And that is a lot like life. You’re welcome!
  • Mahjongg – KontpabI have no idea what I should be listening for here. Fragmented electronica with distorted vocals. It’s got great grooves but not the dancing kind. It’s great background as I make my soups. Maybe if I threw a party I might put this on. Perfect to drink wine and talk about art or whatever you do with wine at parties. I need to get out. Someone invite me to a party, okay? 

I’m not done yet. But the end is near. Like 12 more to go and I will have accounted for every album I bought in the last 3 months. But need to practice the banjo now. The band has a show coming at the Gallery Cabaret in Chicago next Saturday. Very exciting. If you come, I’ll put you in the canon.

The Pitchfork Music Festival, Rating: 8.6

Friday Night—Part of the “Don’t Look Back” thing, which I don’t know anything other than someone in Old Britain somehow convinces creepy old dudes to play their best or seminal (ie, not their best) album in its entirety live. One watches with grotesque curiosity at degenerating bodies flubbing their own lyrics. It was a pleasant warm cloudy day.

  • Mission of Burma (Rating: 7.1) My exposure to Mission of Burma far exceeds my appreciation of them. I have 3 albums and have seen them twice and I don’t get their celebrated status. Probably having something to do with when—not what—they played. That said, this wasn’t too bad since they were restricted to playing their best album in its entirety. But that “roman empire” song stinks, even in context.
  • Sebadoh (Rating: 6.5) I don’t remember Bubble and Scrape and I don’t think I would have liked it that much if I had. My experience of Lou Barlow begins with the beautifully sadsap Bakesale, and seeing this album in its live entirety kind of wants me to keep it that way. Lou delegated too many responsibilities back then it seemed.
  • Public Enemy (Rating: 7.0) Everyone but me seemed to be swooning with anticipation. Britt Daniel even came out and stood next to me (I asked him to not suck). Never got into these guys and I lack the capacity to fake enthusiasm. Their songs seemed to die when Flavor Flav did that “Yeah Boy” thing and Chuck D seemed to be stuck in one militant mood. Still, Flav’s television stuff and notorious undependability brought some celebrity and tension to the night. Was Flavor going to flake? But for missing the first song, he put in a solid show. Whatever people like of these guys, they liked this. Pitchfork Priceless Moment 1: As the crowd boos Flav for hawking his next reality television show (it’s on Wednesday nights!), he responds “Why you booing? You a bunch of ghosts? Don’t boo me, you fake ghosts!” Zing and zung.

Saturday—It poured all morning and was not letting up. It was far far from the nightmare that was Woodstock ’98. Still, the sogginess would persist for the rest of the festival. And then arose the dancing mud people. Oh, dancing mud people, what do you do when you’re not doing your filthy jive? Do you have jobs? Do you celebrate Thanksgiving with family? Do you even read blogs?

  • Boban I Marko Markovic Orkestar (Rating: 8.5) Late start because of rain, but still kind of a nice way to begin the festival proper. Nothing of the raucous show they put on a few days before in Millennium Park. Yet, the unpretentious galvanizing gypsy horn tunes served as a nice palate cleanser. It’s like they were wiping the slate clean for us, but we still end up chalking the same shit.
  • Titus Andronicus (Rating: 7.9) I do like them. And I think they did well in the rain. It’s still early Bright Eyes to my ears, but I don’t prize originality that highly. I like the combination of modern overeducated-underexperienced disaffected white boy angst with unhinged 50’s garage rock type pop. Reminds me of my dad. They didn’t need to be on such a big stage, though.
  • Jay Reatard (Rating: 6.4 by day; 9.1 by night) I’m a big fan of 2 minute songs. Get in and get out. And Jay is a master. No banter. Names the song title and boom he’s going. But it doesn’t work too well in the big outdoor setting. Way better for a musky windowless black room (where I would see them later that night).
  • Caribou (Rating: 7.6): Much more rocking than expected from the ethereal Andorra album, but not that much more interesting. Stayed for a few and scooted.
  • Icy Demons (Rating: 7.9): Way more interesting. And not so tricked out in weirdness, but definitely looking for new territory. Didn’t close the deal for me, but I’m not walking away yet, either.
  • Fleet Foxes (Rating: 9.1): I’m pulling for the Foxes to not be destroyed by their ridiculous press. They make pretty sounds, but they need better songs. But I think they’re all only 12 and I need to work through some jealousy. Nonetheless, they do a great job of translating their 70’s country folk sound live.
  • Fuck Buttons (Rating: 3.2): Knob rawk, don’t waste my time.
  • Dizzee Rascal (Rating: 5.1): Oh Rahzkooh, why do you hate us?
  • The Ruby Suns (Rating: 9.1): Their show minted at least one new fan. The breezy disjointed Carribean grooving were an unexpected treat as the sun came out.
  • Vampire Weekend (Rating: n/a): Didn’t see them. Just wanted to say again that I think they’re the Jar Jar Binks of Indie Rock. That’s copyrighted, btw.
  • Elf Power (Rating: 5.0) They’re like the Platonic Ideal for 90’s indie rock. If we ever do one of those satellites we fill up with crap to launch into space for aliens to find and then use to conquer us (wa-wah), we could do worse by throwing in an Elf Power CD. Completely what you (or I) would expect. Stayed for 2 songs. The aliens will have our number, for sure.
  • !!! (Rating: 6.2) I probably needed to be closer to appreciate this show. I had my !!! experience 2 years ago and was content to keep it distant. And it’s hard to get into dance-punk with a backpack. The kids seemed to like it, so good for them.
  • The Hold Steady (Rating: 9.2) I spent the first 3 songs trying to will myself not to like these guys. And I can’t do it. It’s almost un-American. Fist-pumping sing-along anthems about the self-destructive brats. They have embraced they’re place in pop and made it they’re own. I’ve heard Craig Finn say 3 separate times that there’s so much joy in what they do, I almost believe it.
  • Jarvis Cocker (Rating: 9.6): Holy mole, this guy puts on a show. I have a solo album and liked it alright. I liked Pulp, but then my exposure was only through albums there, too. The performance is a revelation. How can I become Jarvis?
  • No Age (Rating: 8.7): Wanted to see more, but was delayed by being unexpectedly impressed by and unhealthfully wanting to be Jarvis. Then they were having problems and I’m like the wind. I got to hear “Teen Creeps,” the Pitchfork 08 anthem I think.
  • Animal Collective (Rating: 9.2): Knob rawk, but on a much higher level. I was expecting something much more sloppier, befitting an Umphry’s McGee (or whatever) opener. These guys were tight. And efficient. They came to work. I wasn’t putting up with much by then. I just might learn not to regret buying “Strawberry Jam.

Sunday—It was a scorcher. Applied sunscreen 4 times to my sweat-slick forehead and I’ll still burn. But it was cost effective. Made 4 beers feel like 8.

  • Times New Viking (Rating: 7.3) I was expecting both much worse and much better. Their ridiculously low-fi ecstatic recordings portended either a brilliant live show or just sloppiness. Nonetheless, the short set of minimalist bursts of atonal poppy screaming didn’t offend or inspire.
  • The Dirty Projectors (Rating: 8.1) Maybe I’m just overly impressed that they can play Dirty Projectors’ songs. So oddball and overly constructed. But they sounded like the recordings. No fist pumping sing-alongs, though. And did they need to be on the big stage? Stay in the library, you nerds. I change my mind. 4.3.
  • Boris (9.1 for content; 4.3 for length) Japanese lady shreds. Drummer wears white gloves and plays a gong. But the token metal group only goes for 25 minutes? They flew from Japan for just 25 minutes of stage time. What kind of carbon footprint did that leave? Drummer says something about “electrical problem” but I can’t understand him.
  • Apples In Stereo (Rating: 8.5) Exactly what I expected. More nerd pop. At least these nerds were trying to be likeable. They were the eager-to-please waterboys to the indie jock squad.
  • King Khan and His Shrines (Rating: 10.0) I pretty much hate anyone who has not seen King Khan live. That casts pretty big net, I know and sorry. But by missing the rarely US-touring Canadian-Indian paunchy naked-but-for-lavender-hotpants-and-a-gold-beaded-head-dress Memphis-style soul-punk KING, it probably says something about them missing something rare and essential to life that I just can’t abide. Pitchfork Priceless Moment 2: I score a press pass gaining me front stage access. While the KING unnecessarily pantomimes lyrics from their transgendered anthem “I Want To Be A Girl,” my head ends up about a foot from where he has unsecurely tucked his manhood, exposed for all to see. Some see too much.
  • The Dodos (Rating 8.2) They probably need a smaller stage and to not come after King Khan, still the 3 guys do pretty well for the little instrumentation they bring.
  • M. Ward (Rating: Whatever) I’ve seen this guy so many times. And he doesn’t need anymore press.
  • Les Savvy Fav (Rating: 7.80 They’re alright I guess, but I’ve seen too many unappealing naked bodies today to be shocked by this guy’s antics. But still, they do an old school Superchunk cover. 
  • Spiritualized (Rating: 6.9) I really like Songs in A&E. But this seemed kind of boring here. But maybe I’m still coming off my Khan high. Too bad. He had some soulful backup singers that ended up doing too much of the lifting. Saw 3 songs and moved along.
  • Bon Iver (Rating: 9.3 for the originals; 1.2 for the Talk Talk cover) There were some really nice moments here. The crowd participation was well managed and made the experience almost cozy in the overflowing crowd. Pitchfork Priceless Moment 3: Bon Iver makes a very wrongheaded detour with an overlong cover a forgettable Talk Talk mess. The confused crowd politely applauds and yet someone shouts “More Talk Talk!”
  • Dinosaur Jr (Rating: 7.9) Holy guacamole, J Mascis is old. He now reminds me of this creepy dude who used to clean the pool at our YMCA when I was a kid. Or a short pudgy Gandolf the Grey. And say what you will of his reunion with Lou Barlow, I’m not too sure they deserved the prize spot they get in the schedule. But it was sweet that people still seem to like them. For me, that ship has sailed.
  • Spoon (Rating: 9.0) They did their job as headliners. Nothing too mindblowing, though. Speaking of jobs, I have one to wake up to tomorrow in 5 hours. I’m no dancing mud person.