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Category Archives: corny indie

It hasn’t been a great couple of months for blonde alt-rock icons who meant the world to me when I was thirteen. First, Courtney Love reconstructed Hole to release Nobody’s Daughter, a meaninglessly brash update of the heartbreaking and raw solo demos that floated around the internet last summer. What has been lost from the post-rehab versions is the sense of vulnerable humanity that pulsed within the warm guitars, the open spaces of the songs, and Courtney’s disheveled croak which actually enhanced the tales of burnout and decay and hopeful redemption. In the Hole record, that croak sounds weak and thin when backed by pseudo-grunge guitar crunch, and with new songs (or rewrites of the old ones) that contain lyrics full of silly bluster; where once Courtney Love sounded as if she was staring her demons in the eye (finally!), she now sounds as if those demons are insignificant and barely worth attention.

This new iteration of Nobody’s Daughter is unfortunate because it really could have shown a new Courtney Love—an honest, poignant, sympathetic, and artful one—instead of all this hollow bluster. She really is a fantastic writer; if only she’d get out of her own way more often. Hey, Courtney: rock music is dead—at least the kind that you want to play—so do you really want to make a record that sounds like it should be played on radio stations that pump out Chevelle? Next time—if there is a next time—stick to the warm SoCal 70s acoustic guitars. They worked a lot better, and made you sound like a real person.

She’s done a lot of terrible or confusing things, but worst of all (for me) is what she did to “Pacific Coast Highway.” The original is right up there with “Malibu,” proving that for all her faults, Courtney Love is a tremendous chronicler of Los Angeles.

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Liz Phair is getting laughed at—AGAIN—for her terrible music decisions, leading people to think that the music itself is terrible. This happened most recently in 2003, when she wrote and recorded a handful of songs with The Matrix (responsible for at least two of Avril Lavigne’s best songs) on her much-derided eponymous major label debut (I myself think the record is cynical and a little cringe-worthy at worst, but contains some exuberant and occasionally touching songs).

Phair is now getting mocked for releasing her new album Funstyle—rejected by her record label, which does have a point—on her website, including the head-scratching “Bollywood,” an honest-to-God rap over a faux-bhangra beat that details how she began to work as a television composer (or something?).

Look, there are other songs here—songs like “Miss September” (which wouldn’t sound out-of-place on Whitechocolatespacegg) and “Satisfied” (a song that Taylor Swift could do wonders with if she rewrote the lyrics, proving an earlier point, though isn’t it weird that Swift is now a better writer than Phair?)—but the weird joke-songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” (which seems to poke fun at her post-Liz Phair career) and “Beat Is Up” (a send-up of Chicago ladies and their self-help gurus) and “U Hate It” (appropriately the final song on the album, which is hilarious and also contains the immortal lyric “I think I’m a genius/You’re being a PEEN-IUS”) will garner all the attention. As they probably should, and certainly Phair wouldn’t want it any other way.

Because look: how long has Phair been a troll? Let’s not forget that Exile in Guyville was a deliberate response to not only the Rolling Stones, but all of Chicago and dude-centric indie rock to boot. Her Girlysound tapes contained the cowfucking diptych “California” and “South Dakota.” So these new songs, as far as intent goes, are really nothing new. You could say that even her foray into glossy pop was a large-scale trolling in line with Guyville, but directed at a much larger population. Taking all this into account, Liz Phair may actually be the world’s most successful internet troll, with Funstyle as her latest salvo.

Does this make Funstyle a good record? Absolutely not. But like Zappa, like Metal Machine Music, it makes for an interesting listen (of course, because Liz Phair is a woman with a certain reputation, the assumption is that there is no semblance of thought behind her artistic intent, which is bullshit: songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” are too galling and knowing—too self-conscious—to be anything less than the kind of pop-art statement that makes Lady Gaga look like the shallow pretender she is; hey “Little Monsters,” this is how you do subversion). Which is more than you can say about Somebody’s Miracle—to quote Pitchfork, “Now [that] is a terrible Liz Phair record.” Funstyle is the sound of Liz Phair not giving a shit, and daring you to do the same. The fact that you are angry or bemused or interested or appalled only means that Phair—loser that she may often be—has won again.

Oh yeah—”Bollywood” at the very least showcases better white-girl flow than anything in Ke$ha’s oeuvre. Also? That part where she goes “CONNNNNTRRRAAAACCCT” all evil-like reminds me of that skit in “Dre Day.” Finally: “I was trippin’ lookin’ at my portfolio” is possibly the funniest opening line to any song that has ever existed. God bless you, Ms. Phair. Just, you know, try to write a fucking song again, at least once in a while

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Speaking of Ke$ha, how terrible has pop radio been lately? There have been exactly zero good songs this year that have gotten any play. Lady Antebellum’s crossover “Need You Now” was the one bright spot earlier this spring, though its debut on country radio in late 2009 disqualifies it from contention (Justin Bieber’s creepiness and Ludacris’s embarrassment also disqualifies “Baby”).

At least last summer had a few certified summer bangers, no matter how terrible (“I Gotta Feeling”), slightly douchey (“Best I Ever Had”), or marginalized (“You Belong With Me,” “Party in the USA”). This year we are relegated to Katy Perry, a singer/personality so abhorrent she can’t even make a song about the superiority of California girls sound even remotely listenable or fun.

Highlight of the year so far: Miranda Lambert’s month-long country chart-topper “The House That Built Me.”

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I don’t know if it’s my SoCal homesickness, but lately I’ve been listening to two indie rock acts (GASP!) from Southern California who slather reverb and fuzz onto their specific genres. San Diego’s Wavves and Los Angeles’s Best Coast have struck a laidback breezy vibe that reminds me of SoCal beach lounging; Wavves with surf-inflected punk-pop and Best Coast with their vaguely girl-group sound. Of course, being so typically indie, the production makes both acts sound like absolute shit, obscuring the fact that some actual tunes are buried underneath all that pretension. Wavves’s Nathan Williams is hot but douchey, which is perfect for a Southern California boy, and his voice produces the exact kind of obnoxious whine you’d expect (I keep thinking Cobain crossed with someone else I can’t quite place; maybe a bit of Pete Shelley?). “Green Eyes” has the great punk line “My own friends hate me/But I don’t give a shit.” And Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino could actually be a force if she matured beyond indie aesthetic; songs like “When I’m With You” showcase an actual songwriting talent and vocal presence sorely lacking in much of contemporary indie rock (including Wavves).

And if their aesthetic and their locale weren’t enough to have me conflate the two acts, here are their recent album covers:

I CAN HAZ FUZZPOP.

Gilmore Girls is a show that I watched sporadically throughout its seven year run, missing most of the first and nearly all of the last two seasons. One of the pluses about the show is that, though there are several overriding arcs that sustain the show throughout its seven year run, nothing about the individual episodes ever really strays from the general tone and format of the show; every episode will contain rapid-fire dialogue, endless pop culture references (my favorite recently-watched one involves Rory and Jess in a record store asking what Slint is, and having the apparently know-it-all clerk describe them as “grunge,” a mis-identification that actually drove me crazy before I laughed at my dead indie outrage), crazy townsfolk, and some drama between the Gilmore girls and their romantic partners at the time or the Gilmore girls and their patrician lineage in the form of Emily and Richard. In essence—and completely opposite to The Wire, Friday Night Lights, and Breaking Bad, the only other dramatic shows from the oughts that I have loved—Gilmore Girls is a perfect show to watch as comfort food, out of order or in the background. It is serialized in that events which happen in one episode mean something in others, but not so much so that the minutiae in something like The Wire will be crucial in the constant build of the series.

To backtrack a bit: I had been wanting to go through this rewatch because of the fact that I missed whole chunks of the show, filling in the blanks through reruns or outright reference in other episodes (for instance, I missed the entire Max Medina debacle that occurs in season one, but knew of it because it is constantly brought up). After being excited by Parenthood because of Jason Katims (his involvement in both My So-Called Life and Friday Night Lights makes him a deity in this house) and Lauren Graham (consistently robbed of an Emmy for her work as Lorelai Gilmore), I became quickly disappointed with its muddled tone and inconsistent performances, though it is a show that is certainly entertaining while not even close to being good. Graham is, as ever, one of the bright spots, and seeing her in Parenthood only made me want to see her again in Gilmore Girls—a show that was not just good, but often great. This, combined with my recent layoff (yes I am now a victim of America’s economic climate!), made Project Rewatch: Gilmore Girls a go.

This time around—and possibly this has something to do with knowing where they end up and how they get there—I find myself oddly and somewhat disconcertingly much less sympathetic with Lorelai (Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) than I am with most everyone else, including stuffy Emily and Richard (Kelly Bishop and Edward Hermann, two all-time greats) and gruff Luke (Scott Patterson) and caustic Michel (Yanic Truesdale) and boring Dean (Jared Padalecki) and jerky Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) and crazy Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) and insane Paris (Liza Weil) and flaky Christopher (David Sutcliffe, who looks the kind of man you couldn’t resist, making it perfect casting for a show about a girl who got knocked up at 16). Certainly they are our heroines, and complicated ones at that, but when I first started watching the show some nine or so years ago, Lorelai and Rory always seemed on the correct side of things, paragons of charm and cool and twee righteousness. Not that they aren’t this go-round, but more and more I find flaws where previously I saw none. I assume a lot of this is me getting old. Lorelai, for one, is not actually a great mother. She’s a great friend for Rory, and a barrel of fun, but whether it’s regarding nutrition or letting her own personal experiences with The Good Life sabotage Rory’s apparent (if sporadic) need for it, Lorelai Gilmore should not be anyone’s model of the perfect parent. And Rory is a bundle of naivete and bad decisions, mainly concerning boys; listen, I thought Dean was a drip and totally would have cheated on him with some bad boy wannabe like Jess too, but Rory’s very real disillusionment with having a Perfect Boyfriend and her subsequent behavior makes her into a not-very-likable girl at times (believe me, I speak from experience, being somewhat of a Rory myself, especially considering she later falls for a boy named Logan Huntzberger).

All this, of course, adds a lot of meat to the show; very much in the manner of Taylor Swift songs, Gilmore Girls has much greater depth and complication than it is given credit for, easily transcending the teen entertainment cliches it is unfairly saddled with. And much of Gilmore Girls‘ greatness rears its head when it confronts the issue of class, and with it the very real, decades-felt hurt felt by both Lorelai and her parents. The friction between Emily and Richard’s high-society life and Lorelai’s suffocation from it is a constant struggle throughout the series, and it was thrilling to discover how deeply embedded in the show it always was, specifically with three exemplary episodes from the first season:

  • In “Rory’s Birthday Parties” (episode 6), Emily throws a swanky party for Rory, inviting all her new classmates who hate her and whom she hates with equal measure, causing Rory to snap at Emily in front of everyone. Contrite, she later invites Emily to the party Lorelai is giving her the next day. Initially refusing, Emily and Richard show up to the predictably crazy bash in Stars Hollow, where Emily sadly realizes that she doesn’t know Lorelai and Rory at all.
  • In “Rory’s Dance” (episode 9), Lorelai has thrown out her back while making a dress for Rory, who is attending a Chilton dance with Dean. Emily shows up to see them off, and then stays to help Lorelai. They watch old movies and attempt to eat mashed banana on toast (a meal Emily made Lorelai whenever she was sick as a kid) and come very close to bonding, until it is found that Rory and Dean fell asleep (and nothing more) and never made it home. Emily is furious about Lorelai’s parenting skills and about Rory going down Lorelai’s path; Lorelai is in turn furious that her mother doesn’t trust Rory as well as furious that her mother could be right, and says so to Rory, who in turn is furious that her mother doesn’t trust her as much as she says.
  • In “Christopher Returns” (episode 15), Christopher returns. At Emily and Richard’s for dinner, Christopher’s parents (named Straub and Francine, amazingly) lash out at the Gilmores for ruining Christopher’s future, causing Richard to defend Lorelai for perhaps the first time in his life. Lorelai attempts to thank her father, who dismisses it, still stung by how her mistakes ruined his vision of her future. Lorelai and Christopher, alone on her balcony, where they had been countless times before, have sex. He wants to marry her, but she knows that he still isn’t ready to turn the Gilmore Girls into the perfect family picture that Emily, Richard, Straub, and Francine so desperately wanted all those years ago.

It is in these episodes—in these moments—where the glossiness of indie rock quips and coffee consumption and charming small-town preciousness melt away to reveal the big truth about Gilmore Girls: family is what you make of it. Sometimes you have to make your own family, because the one you have causes untold amounts of pain. Sometimes the family you want can never happen, so you make do with the family you have. And sometimes, even fleetingly, the family you have can be the one real thing that tethers you to something other, something greater, than yourself. When you see Lorelai shouting at her mother, feeling for all the world like a pregnant, scared sixteen-year-old girl, you see a woman who, despite her best efforts, hasn’t been able to grow up. And when you see Emily shouting at her daughter, you see a woman who so desperately wants to reassure her sixteen-year-old daughter that everything is okay, even though she knows it isn’t, and for the first time in her life feels powerless. These are the moments that make the show worth watching, when Gilmore Girls approaches something very near the sublime.

How many indie nerd sadsacks are weeping right now because of this, do you think?

Like the cancer that is that Darjeeling guy… what’s his name?

AVC: Wes Anderson?

WO: Yeah. His completely cancerous approach to using music is basically, “Here’s my iPod on shuffle, and here’s my movie.” The two are just thrown together. People are constantly contacting me saying, “I’ve been editing my movie, and I’ve been using your song in the editing process. What would it take to license the song?” And for me it’s like, “Regardless of what you’ve been doing, my song doesn’t belong in your movie.” That’s where the conversation should end. Music should be made for movies, you know?

Team Oldham, even if I don’t care for his music, because I care even less for Wes Anderson’s movies (yeah, even the first three, suck on it, have you tried watching those recently? YEESH!). And at least Oldham was in Old Joy and Wendy & Lucy.