Beer and Pavement

Creepy Old Guys and Indie Rock Grrrls

Posted in Meta, Pop by SM on December 15, 2021

This is maybe the worst title I’ve ever written for a blog post. Please don’t get the wrong idea about me.

I am a white CIS male. If you couldn’t figure that out based on the content of my writing and interests, then you probably don’t succumb to tired stereotypes. However, I suspect my positionality doesn’t really need to be defined. I sort of feel this practice centers oneself, but I guess that’s what one does when one writes a blog, especially in 2021.

But I digress before I’ve even started.

I like indie rock. I like guitars. I like feedback and Pixies-ish dynamics. I like off-key vocals and even more off-key guitar tunings. FTR, I’m not particular to the gender, sex, race, or other identities of the musicians, but my collection is mostly a mirror image of myself.

Still, there have been a growing number of young women making guitar-based indie rock over the last decade. I don’t know if it’s just my heightened awareness over that time or there’s really a trend, but I have noticed, listened to, seen, and collected more women indie rockers in recent years than at any other time of my fandom.

It could be caused by the rise of feminism over my generation’s lifetime. Spaces are more open to women as rock guitar players. The remnants of Riot Grrrl surely has had a lasting effect. The influence of feminist thought has even changed how I view women and women musicians (although, I was always a fan of Riot Grrrl, The Breeders, Liz Phair, etc.).

It could be that for whatever reason, less of the men I used to look to for musical entertainment aren’t making the music I love as much as the women of the two generations coming after Gen X (or is it three generations?).

If I look at my favorite records of the last three years, it’s littered with new female voices playing guitar-based indie rock. Courtney Barnett, Waxahatchee, Snail Mail, Indigo De Souza, Big Thief, Dehd, Vagabon, Black Belt Eagle Scout, etc. etc. These artists are consistently making some of the most interesting music right now.

I’m not saying men are suddenly making good music. I’ve just noticed young women making most of the music I tend to like. Older men make a ton of indie guitar rock that appeals to me, but there aren’t a lot of younger, male-fronted rock bands that sound like they are on Matador circa 1994 at the moment.

So, that’s all cool. I need to diversify my record collection and play more women around my kids.

My daughter and I have even bonded a bit over it all. Indigo De Souza came along at a time when my oldest was transitioning from Billie Eilish to Nirvana. De Souza fits right in the middle of those two. Even though her latest, Any Shape You Take, includes more pop influences than her debut, I Love My Mom, my kid has tended to prefer her rockier, angstier material. Hopefully, we’ll see her this spring and continue to bond over the up-and-coming singer-songwriter.

Indigo De Souza also represents a direction a lot of these artists I’m obsessing over seem to be taking. Many of them seem to be moving away from the rock music that first attracted me toward something poppier. Thankfully, De Souza just seems to be experimenting here and there with pop songs. In fact, between those pop tracks lie some of her hardest-rocking tracks so far.

Several other musicians have taken this pop route as well. I really liked Jay Som’s debut, but her latest has gone spacier and distanced itself from straightforward guitars. The previously-mentioned Vagabon held a lot of potential for upholding feedback-driven quiet-loud-quiet song structures, only to go a minimalist pseudo-electronica path. Others such as Sasami and Japanese Breakfast turned in 90’s-era indie records only to turn up the experimental, more modern aesthetics.

This isn’t all bad. These young artists should expand and should push boundaries. And frankly, I am a dying segment of their audience – literally and figuratively. So, they don’t owe me anything. I can now decenter my musical needs…

Either way, I’m a mid-40’s, upper-middle class white dude who buys way too many records and probably has too many opinions on it all. I just like my indie rock to sound like Pavement, his like Sebadoh or GBV, challenge me like Bikini Kill, and punch me in the balls like Liz Phair. Is it too much to ask that the women of the Millennial and Gen Z share my appreciation for the era?

The Flaming Lost

Posted in Intersections, Pop by SM on February 4, 2010

Disclaimer: I only published this post because I was tired of trying to write it in a way that made sense. Do with it as you please. I have thick skin. You could also tell me something that I did right or mostly berate me. Whatever.

I don’t watch a lot of TV (or a lot of TV with a purpose). I watch some comedic programs1 and certain sporting events2, but I really don’t have a regular TV schedule I follow, except for Lost. I just watch Lost.

Last night was season premier night for my (only) favorite show. I’ve waited since the end of season five3 for the final season to commence. Why? I dunno. It could be the viral marketing4 or complex characters or multi-layered narratives or…it’s just a good show. Lost broke out of the box5 of the typical TV show by transcending time and space6, reality and science fiction7, and basic bad guy/good guy dichotomies8 like no other show has ever done before.

I was thinking about Lost‘s trajectory over the past five seasons and it sort of reminded me of the Flaming Lips’ last six albums9. The first season of Lost, much like 1993’s Transmissions from the Satellite Heart10, starts off fresh, big, and different. Both the album and show explore fledgling love triangles, abductions, and questions of faith. It’s really the beginning for both the TV show and the band11.

Both the second season and the Lips’s Clouds Taste Metallic take much darker turns than their predecessors. Evils are revealed alongside sad realities. Ships are set sail, destroyed, and abandoned. One could even make a case that both follow-ups closely resemble the tenor and tone of Empire Strikes Back, but that would be too nerdy. In the end, the black guy is sent away and all hope is lost12.

The series of Lip’s albums and Lost take strange turns but go a long way in preparing their fans for what’s to come. Scientists race for cures and try to solve the unknowns of their surroundings. Waiting for heroes and unveiling the mysteries of science thematically carry these works. The Soft Bulletin13 and Lost‘s third season were breaking points for each. The Lip’s album topped many year-end lists and is generally considered their breakthrough effort. The castaways of Lost were finally within reach of the outside world as their narrative was about to take a rather severe turn in the seasons to come.

Much is expanded upon in both the Lips’ and Lost‘s narratives. Their follow-ups to their breakthroughs extended themes and aesthetic. Season five was as much a disappointment as At War with the Mystics. And the jury is still out on Embryonic and the still-fresh season six of Lost14.

Throughout the Lips’ discography they’ve covered topics ranging from the existential to the downright comical, mirroring Lost as if existing in a parallel universe15

Anyway, we watched the season premier of Lost and like every time I buy a new Flaming Lips’ record, I feel…well…a little lost. But that kind of lost a is a happy lost. A lost in which reality is suspended. A flash of light blinds for a moment and I’m transported somewhere else. The best music and even the best of TV do that for the consumer. It’s better than any drug. That’s why we keep going back. That’s why I can’t wait for Tuesdays and  for nine months to pass between seasons of my favorite TV show.

1The Office, Thirty Rock, and Stewart/Cobert are the only comedic shows worth watching. End of discussion…unless of course you want to debate my point in the comments, but I don’t think you will.
2I primarily watch Ohio State football and basketball. I know it doesn’t fit with the blog, but that’s who I am.
3That was like nine months ago. I like that each season is 15-17 straight weeks of new episodes, but the trade-off is to wait those nine months between a season-ending cliffhanger and the big reveal at the start of the next season.
4Of course, besides some videos and chat boards, I’m talking about all the spoilers out there. When a season was moving a bit too slowly, I just checked some spoilers to wet my appetite.
5The idiot box, so to speak.
6Usually this element of a show loses me, but because it was slipped in subtly, after they already had audience buy-in, I’m rolling with it. Now, if I could just figure out what to do with the alternate reality/side-backs.
7Although a science fiction is the genre, Lost is more than that as it dances in and around reality.
8I have always loved that the characters are never good or bad. They just are. There’s a ton of layers to every character, giving the drama more depth than any other show on TV.
9 I realize these are not the Lips’ first six albums. This is just where my awareness of the Lips began. Also, I did not include Zaireeka because I don’t have that much time, patience, or CD players to make it work.
10Again, this is where my Lips fandom began.
11The Flaming Lips as we know them today.
12Pun intended and it is strange that Eko (among other characters of color) and the Lips’ Ronald Jones are no longer in the picture.
13Easily one of my favorite albums of all-time and certainly my favorite Lips’ effort.
14OK. I’m just getting lazy here.
15Way too late spoiler alert. Although, I think I already mentioned the parallel universe thing. Oh well. This post is slowly falling apart.


Posted in Manifesto, Pop by SM on January 24, 2010

I watched the last couple of episodes of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien this past week. I hadn’t watched one episode of the late night talk show since O’Brien took over, but I always knew that I preferred O’Brien over his predecessor Jay Leno from watching Late Night for years. (That and his years with The Simpsons were easily the best in that show’s history.) He is a vastly superior comic who doesn’t have to depend on clichés and newspaper clippings sent in by his viewers to write a joke.

His last few shows included a gag where he pieced together the most expensive comedy bits ever in order to run up NBC’s bill. One night, he dresses up the world’s most expensive car as a mouse whose theme song is the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and the next he “buys” a former Kentucky Derby winner dressed in a mink Snuggie™ watching restricted NFL footage. O’Brien outdid that with a giant sloth skeleton “purchased” from the Smithsonian, spraying an “original” Picasso with beluga caviar.

These bits were a stroke of genius as he appeared to be really sticking it to NBC by running up the bill for the show. It’s like that guy in the office who’s about to be laid off, so he gathers as many office supplies as he can fit into his car before leaving. The sketches were so convincing that it prompted outrage from viewers over wasted spending. This is the type of comedy that gets beyond those “wacky politicians in Washington” and men are from Venus” triviality. This is the same “outside-the-box” comedy that doomed shows like Arrested Development or…um…that’s pretty much the list.

Amidst all the comedy, in one truly sincere moment, O’Brien had this to say:

All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.

While positive and gracious in his exit, O’Brien left me feeling a bit…well…cynical about the whole thing. His message was true and from the heart. He’s probably right in that cynicism doesn’t lead to many good things. Of course how can he feel cynical with that $40 million buyout from NBC…

Sorry. Cynicism just took over.

I don’t blame O’Brien for taking the money. I think it was shitty how NBC treated him. I’m with Coco on this one.

His cynicism comment got me thinking about the fine line between cynicism and critique. It’s hard in these days of post-Bushian patriotism and post-Obama Hope™ and Change® to critique anything without running the risk of the “cynic” tag. A cynic looks at an occurrence with skepticism and questions motives or perceived viability – or at least that’s how I take it. Why shouldn’t we closely examine every situation for inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or dishonesty? Should we just accept everything at face value? Is everything as wonderful and altruistic as others would like us to believe?

Because we question one’s motivation or analyze the unseen effects of an event does not mean we are adding nothing to the conversation as the term “cynic” implies, especially in O’Brien’s use of the word.

Is the age of cynicism dead? Did it get thrown out with irony? It sure seems that way sometimes.

Take the Pavement reunion. No one, including myself, thought this gig would happen once much less a full-blown world tour that includes every summer festival on the circuit. It seemed as if front man Stephen Malkmus was tired of working with suspect musicians and the rest of the band was tired of his ego. A reunion seemed out of the question.

Why are they getting back together? It has to be the money. Look at the killing Pixies made. Dinosaur Jr is more popular than ever. Even a band like Cap’n Jazz reunited for one night not just to relive old times and to give their fans another taste of what they miss, but it also happened to coincide with C’nJ off-shoot Joan of Arc’s album release and tour. These bands all wanted to make some cash off their legacies while they still could.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any of this. It’s great that Conan O’Brien was at least able to walk away with millions (sadly sans the masturbating bear). I love that my favorite band Pavement will make a ton of money this summer. They should. I won’t begrudge them that. If pointing out monetary benefits as motivation or somewhat justifiable consolation makes me a cynic, then so be it.

Cynicism is not dead (nor irony). Sure, it’s critique’s older, uglier step-brother, but it’s necessary. It shouldn’t paralyze us with apathy. However, it also won’t keep us from smashing those rose-colored glasses of ignorance. I’m okay with tempered cynicism. It has it’s place no matter what Conan O’Brien or anyone else has to say about it.

Of course, as I write this, I’m wondering if I just wanted to up my visitor count by mentioning “Conan O’Brien” and “Pavement reunion” all over this post. Maybe I am, but it doesn’t mean that this post holds any less truth.

Oh, and cynicism is welcome in the comments. See, there is a place for cynicism in this world.