Fun fact about the Internet. Every now and again, you’ll be minding your business when suddenly, someone will spring a 50-question survey or chain e-mail to forward to 25 of your closest friends or some other quirky activity for you to participate in if you wish to not have some sort of horrible fate befall you. Today, that onus falls upon me. I have an activity that you will need to participate in or, say, your second cousin will fall into a cravice. A really deep one. And it’s filled with lava.
Okay, you’re done. What’d you end up with? Wait, don’t answer that question. I can’t possibly hear you answer it, and people will think you’ve lost your mind talking out loud to your computer. So here’s what I got.
Yeah, that’s right. My random band name is Hägen. Hagen with an umlaut. I kid you not. The Internet gods are clearly screwing with me.
So get to work, and while you’re doing that, I’ll be writing tracks for my debut album. I’m thinking of kind of a power-pop sound with a little bit of synth that’s danceable but still totally heavy metal hard rock. Kind of like Tool meets Ace of Base, with just a hint of Meat Loaf. Get your pre-orders in now, before you completely forget about it later.
John Vanderslice is an American Four-Tracker. He’s declared it on an album(Life and Death of An American Four-Tracker), he’s built a retro recording studio(Tiny Telephone) based on his love of doing things simply and earnestly and he plays each show like a kid playing his newest creation for a group of close friends in his mom’s basement. Of course, he also happens to be one of the most engaging songwriters working today, able to conjure up such vivid imagery and well-rounded characters that you wonder if he’s either a schizophrenic or a peeping-tom.
Yet, he’s on a small indie label (Barsuk) and plays shows to groups of 300 to 500 people (sometimes less, sometimes more) who are dedicated fans, but are also probably the only people they know who have the slightest idea who John Vanderslice is.
While this makes going to see John play live a wonderful, intimate, euphoric experience, when you step back a bit, you’re still kind of disappointed that there aren’t more people there to enjoy the show with you. On the other hand, you don’t want him to be big like U2; overplayed on the radio and soullessly touring 20,000 seat arenas. It’s a contradiction that many fans of smaller bands and artists face all the time, the desire for the bands they love ardently to have fame and fortune and recognition, while shunning bands who do have those same trappings.
As it is, John Vanderslice seems to be perfectly content with where he is in life. In interviews, he’s jovial and engaging, always excited about what he’s working on next or what he just finished. He’s constantly collaborating with friends and other bands on music and recordings. He even busks on sidewalks on occasion, just for the hell of it. For a guy that’s soon to turn the ripe old age of 41, he has a lot of pep in his step.
Of course, this is all readily apparent in his music. Although he’s firmly rooted in the guitar-bass-drums-vocals camp of rock music, other influences bubble up all the time. Be it hip-hop, folk or techno, his myriad of influences are evident in each of his records.
But, that doesn’t meant that he’s not inclined to be serious. Both of his last two records, 2005′s Pixel Revolt and 2007′s Emerald City, have songs that reference the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror.” In an era sadly devoid of high-profile protest songs, some of John’s best work, songs like “Exodus Damage” (Pixel Revolt) and “The Parade” (Emerald City) would, if they could get airtime, easily fill that space. In fact, Emerald City was named after the nickname given to the Green Zone in Baghdad. For a songwriter that can imbue so much life to fictional characters, he brings even more of a vivid clarity to the events that are swirling around him and all of us during these trying times.
In closing, Vanderslice’s music is as engaging, tumultuous and vibrant as anything out there today. It’s just a damn shame the guy can’t garner some more attention.
P.S.-If you’re interesting in checking out more of his stuff, he has a large repository of mp3′s on his website. There’s stuff from his albums as well as a ton of live and demo recordings, as well. Enjoy!
In fact, the only distinct memory I have from my handful of trips to Winnepeg is nearly driving into parked cars on major thoroughfares. Apparently, it’s legal to park in the slow lane during certain hours there. Not exactly the smartest parking solution I’ve ever seen.
So, it might come as a small surprise that one of the better bands you’ve never heard of calls Winnipeg home.
The Weakerthans may be relatively well-known in Canada, but here in the States, they live outside of most people’s buzz-bin. The only thing you might recognize them from would be the movie “Wedding Crashers.” Yes, that silly-ass movie starring the guy with the horrifically broken nose (not Adrian Brody, the other one) and the guy that looks like he might try to hit on your 12 year-old sister. The song that plays over the credits at the end of that movie? Yeah, that’s Aside, off The Weakerthans debut album, Fallow.
Lead singer and songwriter, John K. Samson, achieved a degree of popularity with the anarchist and activist punk band, Propagandhi. Their drummer, Jason Tait, has played with Broken Social Scene, so these guys aren’t complete unknowns.
The Weakerthans are a band that sounds like the wide-open plains I grew up on, where the horizon stretches out forever and open roads dart across the wheatfields. With traces of lap steel peppering many of their songs, their driving guitars and introspective, hyper-literate lyrics, they count many a bespectacled, chronically-mistunderstood English major among their faithful fanbase.
Samson’s lyrics are always paint a very vivid picture and he treats his subjects with the kind of reverence you reserve for dysfunctional relatives and small-town friends. Here’s a sample-
I still hear trains at night, when the wind is right.
I remember everything, lick and thread this string
that will never mend you
or tailor more than a memory of a kitchen floor,
or the fire-door that we kept propping open.
And I love this place; the enormous sky,
and the faces, hands that I’m haunted by,
so why can’t I forgive these buildings,
these frameworks labeled “Home”?
That’s from a song called This Is A Fire Door, Never Leave Open. Every time I listen to that part of the song, I find myself uncontrollably humming or singing along. Who among us hasn’t had memories and thoughts just like those? Almost every Weakerthans song has a moment or two like that, where they lyrics touch you so deeply, in a place you least expected. For me, the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention, other people I’ve talked to say that they just get chills or faraway stares as they remember something from their childhood or formative years.
It’s not just the lyrics alone, though, it’s the whole package. The chunky guitars and the peppering of pedal steel matched with Samson’s nasal-y, matter-of-fact delivery just tug at your heartstrings at every opportunity. This is a band built for nostalgic trips down memory lane.
They’re a thinking-man’s working band. Or a working-man’s thinking band. Either way, they’re awesome.
Beulah. It’s not just a small town on the North Dakota prairie anymore.
There was once a band called Beulah and almost no one has heard of them and I think that’s just tragic. You have no idea what you missed. Have been missing. Have missed. Whatever.
Without going into a long and exhaustive discussion of the band’s history and their influences and other nonsense that just about anyone can find all over the internets, I’d like to focus on their music, which was wonderful.
If another band expressed the era from 1998 to 2004 better than Beulah, I can’t think of one. Wilco, with their releases Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, perhaps, but that’s about it. With albums stocked with horns, hushed vocals and hooks galore, hope and loss marked Beulah’s career. That and complete lack of monetary success. Being critical darlings doesn’t pay the bills.
Beulah was another in an endless string of critically-acclaimed bands that never ever achieved as much as their supporters assumed they would, for whatever reason. From their first proper album on Elephant 6 Records, Handsome Western States, to their final album, Yoko, they never failed to serve up delicious pop with a side of heartbreak and humanity.
They weren’t necessarily groundbreaking and their music won’t make you re-think your whole life, but it will put you into a very good place and it will touch your heart. Miles Kurosky’s pained, soft delivery backed by lush soundscapes perfectly captured the feelings of millions of 20-somethings. The lyrics were filled with the same words you said to yourself day after day and the music was the soundtrack to your life. You could relate to this band.
More than anything else, they captured the atmosphere that enveloped college campuses nationwide around the turn of the century. A generation of kids heading away from home for the first time, tired to the bone of grunge and already starting to regret emo, were looking for something else. Enter Beulah, who, I would like to argue, was just one of many bands that got swallowed up in the first wave of peer-to-peer file sharing that was Napster and the influx of cheaper CD Burners. Thousands of kids that did buy their albums shared them with everyone they knew and many that they didn’t through both of those means. I’ll admit that this is how I was first exposed to the band. It wasn’t until much later that I actually purchased their last two albums on my own. I’m guessing it was the same for a lot of other people. I’m not saying this is the only reason for the downfall of the band, but it certainly couldn’t have helped. I mean, everyone I’ve ever played Beulah for has loved them, so there has to be some reason that no one bought these albums, right?
In any case, there is no longer a band named Beulah. They broke up in 2004, after one final tour. That tour was documented in a DVD called “A Good Band Is Easy To Kill,” which is worth picking up.
Lead singer and main instigator, Miles Kurosky, is still working on his solo debut, which is quickly becoming his “Chinese Democracy,” in that he’s been working on it for nearly five years now. In an interview I read recently with him, he says it’s basically done. But I’ve read that before. Time will tell.
So, I beg you to go out and expose yourself to Beulah. I believe that they’re my generation’s Big Star, a band who’s impact on music and general awesomeness won’t truly be realized for at least another decade. And when that happens, I’ll be standing right there, saying “I told you so.”
First hitting the music scene in 1996 with their only hit, “Sucked Out,” Superdrag is a band that should have been big, but it just didn’t seem to be in the cards for them. They got caught in the backwash of grunge-lite bands that polluted the airwaves and never really had a chance. With a sound that evokes the Kinks, as well as various other British Invasion bands like the Turtles and the Animals as well as even the king of them all, The Beatles, they are nothing like the 7Mary3s and Silverchairs of the world. Amid raucous drums, rock-steady bass and always tuneful melodies, their sound wasn’t necessarily as ground-breaking as it was endearing. Their no-nonsense formula of simple chords and plaintive lyrics just never broke through.
Superdrag put out a string of good-to-great albums that are all eminently listen-able and are best enjoyed when played loud. This is the music that you listen to while playing pool with friends at a local hang-out or air-guitar to while driving down the highway or use to drown out your sorrow after a bad breakup or blare to giddily dance around to after falling in love. Superdrag contains all of the essential building blocks of a healthy musical diet, and it’s high in fiber.
Their last proper album, Last Call For Vitriol, released in 2002, was much more laid-back and heartfelt than the previous three and was arguably their best effort to date. Following the subsequent tour to support the album, the band went on hiatus, which is industry-speak for “broke up.”
After the breakup, lead singer John Davis turned to Christianity and recorded a few Christian-themed albums and worked as a studio musician. The other band members continued to be involved music in various forms. Last fall, they returned from hiatus (got back together) and played a few shows. Buoyed by the success of the shows and the rediscovered joy of playing music together, they have entered the studio to record a new album, which is currently in the works.
I discovered Superdrag late in life, being vaguely aware of “Sucked Out” and pushed into buying Last Call for Vitriol by my friend, Kelly, I quickly fell for them hook, line and sinker. As with many of the bands that I discovered later in life (The Replacements, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Apples In Stereo, The Thermals, etc) I was baffled that they were not insanely popular and playing before sold-out arenas on a regular basis.
I remain convinced that there’s an alternate universe where the bands that I love are all world-famous and revered for their craft and the crap you hear on pop radio is relegated to relative, if not total obscurity. Superdrag is definitely one of the bands that would be on the top of the heap in that alternate universe.
In any case, I feel that it’s important that you know about these bands. Whether it’s for my own sanity or the well-being of these bands, I continually push them on my friends and family, often going as far as buying albums for people to get them into a band I know in my heart of hearts that they’d love if they just gave it a chance.
Well, I want you all to listen to Superdrag. I know that you’d love them, if you just gave them a chance.
Because the Sara Bareilles song is on every commercial that I can’t fast forward through, or on every mall speaker system, and because the popularity of the sad-bastard music of the Plain White T’s means I have the whole tune memorized without ever having intentionally listened to Delilah, I made this song. Here’s to you, lovers of sappy men/strong-yet-weepy-woman music:
Plain White T’s:
Hey there, Bareilles
What’s it like in New York City?
I’m a thousand miles away, but girl tonight you look so pretty
Ah..do i? Well…I’m not gonna write you a love song!
Cause you asked for it, cause you need one, you see
Yes…yes, I do
I can’t seem to write, just like you
I swear it’s true
I’m gonna need a better reason to write you a love song, today! But you’re far away.
Don’t you worry about the distance
A thousand miles seems pretty far
But they’ve got gmail, cells and cars
If you’re on your way, I’m not gonna write unless you stay
Hey there, Bareilles, what’s it like to write a love song?
I know that you’ve tried not to, but this one is getting tired
yes it’s true
And it’s not even about you. Whoo woo woo
By the time we get through
The world will never ever be the same
And we’re to blame
I know it’s a little late for presents, but what the hell. Since the Sod Nation is 100% dedicated towards all things Radiohead, the least I can do is offer you definitive proof as to why the band owns both you and your family’s sorry asses. So as a favor to me, set aside a hour and watch this whole video, if for no other reason, than to watch Thom Yorke’s lazy eye darting back and forth. It’s more entertaining that Cirque du Soleil, I’m telling you.
So now, having watched that, do you consider yourself a better person than you were before? You do? Well, then, my work here is done.
The problem with Top Ten lists is that you can’t know for sure how much music the dude (or dudette) offering the list actually listened to for the year. Sometimes this makes no difference. Like when Rolling Stone or Spin writers put together their best-of lists, after having had every CD made sent to them to listen to for free, and they still find a way to put that goddamned Arctic Monkeys CD among the ranks. But, there are actual reputable publications, online and in print, that put together some pretty kick-ass lists, and I trust them because they probably actually heard the whole Black Lips disc. I have not.
I don’t get free CDs, and I bought a crap house this year. So I’m poor, and I couldn’t analyze every disc released this year. Because I don’t have that kind of money. And, honestly, I haven’t heard any of the Lily Allen CD, because I get the feeling that I don’t give a crap about Lily Allen.
So, yes, this is a Top Ten list. But it’s the top ten of music I actually listen to, and spent money on. And I live in Bismarck, N.D., so it’s not as obscure a list as it can be, because it’s only CDs that I can find at Best Buy, because that’s my only option. And, yes, most of it has been previously published in a newspaper. This is because I am lazy, so I’m not going to write two different lists for two different places. And the paper kind of feeds my kids (that’s my nickname for my teeth), so they get first priority. But, hey, I sprinkled some swear words into this version. Fun!
Okay, I’ve been bad. Not as bad as some people, of course, but I do admit that I’ve erred during the past year, no matter how minor the misstep.
That’s right, I put together a Top Ten list before the end of the actual calendar year and now I’m paying for my indiscretion. I messed up, okay. Please forgive me. It’s not like you’re perfect or anything, you jerks.
Sorry, that was unwarranted. I shouldn’t have come down on you like that. Here, want a piece of my Kit-Kat? We cool, homes? Great. Let’s move on.