Outta traction, back in action…
Not really. Here I am riffing on the radio with Tom Scharping. I liberally toss around the word “improv,” but this really was minute by minute. The Led Zep thing didn’t occur to me until well into the call. Tom liked this one. I was iffy. It starts shortly into the very last HALF hour of the May 24, 2005 show.
…and below is my review of Napoleon Dynamite that ran in this week’s Washington City Paper….
I’ve been called a hater. But here I will open with a compliment. Jared Hess’ Napoleon Dynamite does one thing right: It encompasses everything that is wrong with the 18 – 35 demographic. A terrifying number of professionals, hipsters, frat boys, pseudointellectuals, and hippies liberally throw around such terms as “brilliant” and “genius” when describing this lowest-common-denominator, audience-loathing bedsore on the tuchis of true comedy. The film’s creators did nothing more than take a random selection of thrift-shop sight-gags from multiple decades (Ha ha! Just look at that crazy van/wood paneling/outfit!), write characters that no one could possibly become attached to, reheat some nostalgic catchphrases, and piecemeal together lame subplots from the margins of pop culture. The attempted “timeless” element of the town was completely botched: Surfing the Internet gets shoved together with inspecifically retro wardrobes, automobiles, and the billionth worn-out use of a boombox to allow humor-challenged dolts to point and say, “Remember (insert ’80s thing) from the ’80s? I’ve honestly heard people claim that white kids really dress that way in small towns. No, white kids in small towns dress like black kids in big towns. (See Malibu’s Most Wanted as a serious anthropological example.) Yes, Napoleon Dynamite could have swept the Oscars had there been categories for Best Lazy Attempt at Latino Humor, Best Lazy Attempt at African-American Humor, or Best Film for Aspiring but Wholly Unoriginal Humorists. I have a general response to the never-ending parade of people who love this movie: Watch more movies. Start by studying what ain’t funny when Napoleon Dynamite screens at midnight Friday, May 20, and Saturday, May 21, at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. $6.75. (202) 452-****. (Andrew Earles)
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Below is perhaps the most humbling, embarrassing moment I’ve yet to experience as a writer. It happened about three months ago. Yep, I turned in crap, and yep, I was made aware of this. The name of the publication – a pretty big one that I do not write for – will be withheld.
The 30-year-old [COULD ANYTHING YET BE “POSTPUNK” IN 1975?] convoluted mess that we still call “post-punk” has an honest and able torchbearer in the 5-year-old A Frames [SOMEWHERE UP FRONT WE NEED TO KNOW THEY’RE FROM SEATTLE, THAT THE RECORD IS CALLED “BLACK FOREST,” THAT IT’S COMING OUT MARCH 22 ON SUB POP, THAT IT’S THEIR THIRD, ET CETERA. YOU KNOW, THE BASIC INFO THAT’LL ORIENT A READER AND LET HIM KNOW WHY HE’S HEARING ABOUT THIS BAND]. Erin Sullivan, Min Yee, and Lars Finberg make for a confusing but delightful party [HMM–I’M HAVING COGNITIVE DISSONANCE TRYING TO THINK OF THE A FRAMES AS “DELIGHTFUL” OR AS A “PARTY”–IT’S SUCH GRIM, BLANK, CLIPPED, NO-NONSENSE STUFF, UTTERLY UNINDULGENT] that bring something to the table, as opposed to zapping the energy from the already rode-hard-and-put-up-wet genre, like, say, a band like the Moving Units might be guilty of [SO WHAT DO THE MOVING UNITS DO THAT’S SO PARASITIC? THIS ZINGER DOESN’T REALLY HAVE TEETH WITHOUT THAT DETAIL]. You must add something to the hopper [KINDA REPEATING “BRING SOMETHING TO THE TABLE”]…do a little more than change the lyrics to Gang Of Four or Pop Group or early Talking Heads songs and toss it off as your own little slice of life. The A Frames’ post punk is not the fashion spread angularity [IT’S STRANGE TO SAY, ESSENTIALLY, “THE A FRAMES’ POSTPUNK IS NOT ANGULARITY”–NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF ANGULARITY YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, THE FACT REMAINS THAT “POSTPUNK” AND “ANGULARITY” ARE NOT GRAMMATICALLY PARALLEL–FOR STARTERS, ONE’S A GENRE OF MUSIC, AND ONE IS A QUALITY OF SHAPES OR PHRASES] made by charlatans who heard Wire for the first time two years ago. Got news for you: There’s a factory somewhere in Brooklyn that spits out nine of those per hour. [HERE’S WHERE I’M FIRST STARTING TO THINK: OK THEN, WHAT *DO* THE A FRAMES DO? THIS IS ABOUT WHAT THEY AREN’T, WHICH IS ALL WELL AND GOOD UP TO A POINT–BUT IT’S WEIRD TO INSIST THAT A BAND IS ORIGINAL WITHOUT TOUCHING ON THE SOURCE OF THAT ORIGINALITY]
Where will the A Frames fit? Thematically, they fit the here and now [TOO BROAD TO BE MEANINGFUL, AND A BIT OF A CLICHE]. No longer the fave subjects of folks living under bridges, we now have doomsday activity gone wild: Mother Nature’s ultimate revenge tactics [I CAN’T THINK OF ANY A FRAMES SONGS WHERE THE CALAMITY IS CAUSED BY PURELY NATURAL FORCES, NOT BY HUMAN MEDDLING–DO YOU HAVE A FEW IN MIND?], high societal/cultural/government paranoia [DOES “GOVERNMENT PARANOIA” MEAN “PARANOIA ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT” OR “A GOVERNMENT THAT’S PARANOID”? LIKEWISE, WHAT’S “HIGH SOCIETAL PARANOIA”?], technological cluster-fucking [OK, NO CLUE HERE–NEEDS TO BE MORE SPECIFIC. MAYBE REFER TO “NEUTRON BOMB” OR “TEST TUBE BABY” OR “SURVEILLANCE” OR “ELECTRIC EYE”–OR, ON THE NEW ALBUM, “DEATH TRAIN” OR “U-BOAT”], and undeterred alienation [STRANGE USAGE–WHAT WOULD ALIENATION BE “DETERRED” BY?]. Electronics and surveillance and computers and animation at their rawest [RAW IN WHAT WAY? AND WHAT IS “ANIMATION” DOING IN HERE?], Phillip K. Dick’s 50’s era rent paying eye-in-the-sky novels, and Mark E. Smith may have named a horrible Fall song “Paranoid Man In Cheap Shit Room,” but that title alone served to sum up much of Smith’s lyrical agenda [WHAT THE HECK DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?] (the A Frames nascent moniker was, after all, “Bend Sinister” [OK, I GET THE REFERENCE, BUT THE CONNECTION IS MADE IN A HAPHAZARD WAY ON THE PAGE–ALSO, CAN YOU TELL ME WHEN THE BAND ACTUALLY USED THIS NAME? TO MY KNOWLEDGE THEY DIDN’T RELEASE ANYTHING UNDER IT]) – all is crammed through the aggro-thrust of the new Black Forest and into a last days unrest of the A Frames’ own liking [ANOTHER PHRASE THAT SEEMS LIKE HAND-WAVING–THERE’S REALLY NO CONTENT IN “OF THE A FRAMES’ OWN LIKING”]. This is stated sans metaphor with the song titles themselves. “Quantum Mechanic”(no relation to ZZ Top’s “Manic Mechanic”), “Age Of Progress”, “Death Train”, “Flies” – these could be the names of either scrapped History Channel documentaries or 70’s horror flicks starring Bo Hopkins [NOT SEEING HOW DOCUMENTARIES OR HORROR FILMS REINFORCE THE IDEA OF “LAST-DAYS UNREST”]. “One way mirror on the wall, who’s the loneliest of all, disconnection in concrete, reality testing is complete.” These words, from “Experiment” (the album’s first real song) are not whining complaints, but mechanical statements leading a tight No-Wave shake down. It’s easy to imagine slowly advancing aerial footage over miles of decommissioned warehouses and abandoned office parks to the backdrop of any randomly chosen three minutes of Black Forest. That’s easy. The question remains, though, where will that, or any, three minutes of Black Forest, fit in the tightly guarded safety zone of what is the attention-getting realm of post-punk 2005? [AS I SAID, THIS QUESTION IS NOT AN URGENT ONE FOR ME–I THINK IT’S A MISTAKE TO PUT TO MUCH OF THE REVIEW’S WEIGHT ON THIS POINT. HONESTLY, WHAT I’D MOST LIKE TO KNOW ABOUT THE A FRAMES–THE INTERESTING QUESTION THEIR MUSIC RAISES FOR ME–IS “DO THESE GUYS MEAN IT?” I’M CONVINCED, TO PICK ANOTHER EXAMPLE, THAT SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM REALLY BELIEVES THAT INDUSTRIAL CIVILIZATION HAS ITS OWN EXTINCTION BUILT INTO ITS STRUCTURE–BUT THE WAY THE A FRAMES GRAFT THEIR FLAT DYSTOPIAN LYRICS ONTO POPPY LOVE SONGS LIKE “SURVEILLANCE” AND “WASTELAND” REALLY MAKES ME WONDER WHAT THEIR ARTISTIC PROJECT IS. THEY SOMETIMES SEEM TO BE ADDRESSING AN IRRETRIEVABLE MERGING OF MAN AND TECHNOLOGY, NOT AN EXTINCTION SO MUCH AS A FUCKED-UP KIND OF SYMBIOSIS. THERE’S ALSO THE GENERAL ABSENCE OF ELECTRONIC OR TRADITIONALLY FUTURISTIC ELEMENTS IN THE MUSIC, WHICH SEEMS TO CHAFE AGAINST THE LYRICS’ SCI-FI FIXATIONS–SURE, THE GUYS OVERDUB KEYBOARDS ON THE ALBUMS, BUT LIVE IT’S JUST GUITAR, BASS, TWO AMPS, AND A DRUM KIT WITH SALVAGE-YARD CRAP PILED ON IT. EH, ANYWAY. HERE I’M JUST FEEDING YOU IDEAS, TRYING TO KICK-START SOMETHING. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT]
[THIS WHOLE PARAGRAPH SEEMS TO HAVE NOT ONE THING TO DO WITH THE A FRAMES–WHAT’S IT DOING HERE? SEE MY COMMENT NUMBER TWO ABOVE] The influences, the backlash, and the music itself. Three, if not the three components of a hip, or accepted, or genuinely inspired movement. One or two will always outweigh another; the bar graph will always differ. Very cursory, the elements of pronounced white-funk bass, angular guitar, dub reggae or jazz nods, and grossly tight drumming didn’t disappear in the late-70’s/early-80’s and resurface as an “inventive” angle in the late-90’s [DESCRIBING POSTPUNK AS A WHOLE, RIGHT? WHY BOTHER? POSTPUNK AS A WHOLE ISN’T THE SUBJECT HERE]. It may have taken on some baggage, like the electro and disco influences that have awarded us something as stupidly named as dance punk. But sticking with rock, you can take a line like Joy Division to The Minutemen to Honor Role to Fugazi to Trenchmouth to The Monorchid to GOGOGOAirheart and on to the explosion. And once the explosion happened, some additional lines were drawn. When certain post punk merchants enter the mainstream, history is blurred or erased, and an integrity gap widens. For example, high profile press will have you believing it novel that Interpol or Franz Ferdinand wear suits, and that they sound like something made before 1981. Nation of Ulysses were shoplifting suits from Montgomery Ward in 1991, and early Church is about as close to post punk as Interpol tread [GOOD ZINGERS, BUT I STILL DON’T THINK THIS PARAGRAPH IS HELPING THE REVIEW OF “BLACK FOREST” GET ANY TRACTION].
With the name and look [REALLY? WHAT ABOUT THE NAME?], you’d be correct at guessing that the sycophantic garage punk scene [WHERE DOES “SYCOPHANTIC” COME FROM? THE GARAGE SCENE THAT’S “EMBRACED” THE A FRAMES ISN’T THE MEDIA-CREATED CLUB OF BANDS LIKE THE KILLS AND THE STROKES–THEY’RE ABOUT AS “GARAGE” AS VALET PARKING] embraces A Frames. There is garage here. The A Frames are not posing for anyone, though the Guinness Book-tall [HOLD ON A SECOND! ERIN’S ONLY A COUPLE INCHES TALLER THAN ME, AT MOST SIX FOOT TWO] Erin Sullivan (guitars/vocals) does fit the profile of a guy who’d be welding saw blades onto a 1981 Datsun 210 after the bombs have hit. The simplicity of garage and late-70’s DIY is over-evident on [SENTENCE FRAGMENT HERE–AND “SIMPLICITY” IS VAGUE, WHERE SPECIFIC WOULD FIT EASILY] Be that as it may, Black Forest mixes in elements [WHAT ELEMENTS? AGAIN, DETAILS ARE KEY!] of the most structured This Heat tracks, or very early Cabaret Voltaire, plus, it doesn’t deviate entirely from the scorched earth fantasies of Joy Division in one of those creepy moods. The guitar stabs like the best of No Wave yesteryear, the bass is singular hard punch…so far from “funky,” and the drum pound is commonly a simple death march. Plus, as a respite, there is pop. “Death Train” and “Galena” are catchy to a fault [WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CATCHY TO A FAULT?].
Pre-A Frames background must be taken into account [WHY? STRANGE WAY TO INTRODUCE THIS, WITH A RHETORICAL “MUST” THAT ISN’T BACKED UP OR ATTACHED TO ANYTHING]: At various times, members ate crow in Scratch Acid, The Cows, and The Butthole Surfers [WHO WAS IN WHAT BAND, AND WHEN? WHY DO YOU SAY “ATE CROW”? WHAT WAS HUMILIATING ABOUT BEING IN THE COWS, FOR INSTANCE?]. This old fashioned, guttural indie antagonism also makes itself aurally known and coordinates seamlessly with the above-mentioned No Wave salute(s) [OH MAN, I REALLY JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING AT HERE–THERE’S A WOOLLY, DRUGGY UNPLEASANTNESS ABOUT THE BANDS YOU’VE LISTED ABOVE THAT THE A FRAMES JUST DON’T SHARE, DESPITE THE UGLY, UNFRIENDLY ASPECTS OF THEIR SOUND]. In a reality one minor side step from this one, Black Forest could have been a singular “holy shit!” on Amphetamine Reptile or Touch and Go in 1993.
Black Forest is the third A Frames full length, pushing along a story dotted with a respectable number of singles and side projects (Dipers, The Intelligence [I THINK THESE BANDS ARE PROBABLY MORE ENLIGHTENING THAN SCRATCH ACID AND COMPANY]). It’s also, as you may have noticed, on Sub Pop, thus ending the baby steps up the ladder from hyper-obscurity. Whatever else that means these days is anyone’s guess… [EVERYTHING FROM HERE TO “PERSONNEL AGE” IS PRETTY MUCH TOTALLY OPAQUE TO ME–SEEMS LIKE A CRYPTIC WAY OF “LOCATING” THE A FRAMES BETWEEN SEVERAL ARBITRARILY SELECTED POINTS, BUT TO WHAT PURPOSE?] perhaps it balances the aesthetic load between the Throbbing Gristle/Whitehouse reheating of Wolf Eyes and the college girl bear trap of The Postal Service, while proposing an answer to the Troubleman roster with camera-in-the-corner jitters from guys wizened with better record collections and about a respective decade of personnel age. The A Frames are rightly making people give a fuck [THIS IS PUFFY–ARE THEY INDEED MAKING PEOPLE GIVE A FUCK? WHAT PEOPLE? I GIVE A FUCK, SURE, BUT THEY DIDN’T MAKE ME–AND I COULDN’T CARE LESS THAT THEY’VE SUPPOSEDLY DEFIED THE FASHIONABLE DEFINITION OF POSTPUNK. I SUSPECT THEY DON’T THINK MUCH ABOUT IT EITHER] by not giving one about what you think post punk should be, and out of that defiance comes a breather from mediocrity.
Failed Pilot E-mail is back up, in case you’ve been trying over the past 3 – 4 days.