Welcome to the first installment of Bozza & Burke, a blog where bestselling author and critic Anthony Bozza and young upstart Max Burke dissect the latest rock music, news and trends with a healthy sense of humor, a dab of personal reminiscences and a twist of opinion. Before we kick things off, a few brief words by way of explanation.
I’ve wanted to blog about music for a while, but like a drunk uncle at a wedding, I found myself reasoning in circles. Why do this? What should I cover? Hasn’t that been done? Where do I fit in? Why bother (who are you and where’s the bar?). I saw no need for more opining, snark, or over-sharing. I was done with diary diarrhea passing for reviews. I wanted less to say more than esoteric soundbites. I didn’t want to cover the obvious obviously. I wanted a nuanced conversation, a dialogue of observations with a like minded soul harboring different sensibilities – this would yield insight and add something of worth to the wide waters of the Internet. My co-hort Burke is the perfect fit. He’s got a great ear, a clean writing voice and he knows his music, both past and present. So away we go. I hope you all enjoy it.
What is the purpose of this blog? First and foremost, we’re hoping to get some discussion about the current state of music and hopefully expose some bands that deserve it. This project speaks to a single provocative question: Does the culture of rock music have any weight in this day and age? Has the time when rock music “meant something” in a larger cultural sense, passed? Perhaps it has, and if it has, then what does it mean to continue to engage in rock music as a critic, a fan, a musician or record label? Has it become just an insular group of people talking to each other in new ways or does social media, the ubiquity of the digital world and the democratizing power of blogging point the way forward to a new era that recaptures the idealism that birthed the music?
We hope to address these questions by looking at a variety of bands across the spectrum of rock music, as well as bringing you interviews and commentary on the music industry at large. We’ll discuss our backgrounds, how we came to be music nerds and critics, and how that role is changing rapidly. We’d also love to hear from you…is there a band we should investigate? Is there a subject you’d love to hear us discuss? Please let us know.
For our first installment, we’ll be looking at some of the rock music made over the past 12 months or so by a variety of under-the-radar artists.
White Hills – “Dead”
from the LP White Hills (Thrill Jockey, 2010)
Burke: White Hills are one of my favorite bands in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, they don’t play out too much in the city. They have a much larger following in Europe although now they are on Thrill Jockey and last year was a big year for them. They are heavy psychedelic rock, although some of their material is longer and spacier, and some noisier. The band is masterminded by one man named Dave W. and they have recorded with Kid Millions from Oneida. Live they are a three or four piece and they really bring it, including costumes and makeup which are pretty out there and psychedelic. The live spectacle is mesmerizing: the group isn’t afraid to flirt with the theatricality of glam, which is a bit unfashionable in rock right now. I got into White Hills around the time that I discovered Hawkwind, which I think makes sense. They’ll be going on tour in the States shortly, check the MySpace link above.
Bozza: You were on a Hawkwind bender, were you Burke? Glorious stuff – one could fill a weekend with Hawkwind’s catalog without even stretching. White Hills does psych the way I like it: they capture the roller coaster emotion of a psychedelic trip without going the short way around, which is to say using noise to recreate a “freakout” experience. They avoid the bad acid and carnivorous spiders feeling of more run-of-the-mill trippy jam bands. They avoid retro cliché but capture the power. They remind me of Hear It Is/Oh My Gawd!!! era Flaming Lips sans the compulsion to couch their extended explorations in shades of traditional pop song structure. On stage,their glam touches, from the occasional Ziggy Stardust spaceman outfit to a healthy theatrical flair, are what keep White Hills fun. They get “out there” but don’t insist that it be a somber Spacemen 3/Velvet Underground affair. If I had my way, this summer they’d tour with Earl Greyhound and play outdoor venues where the ticket price included a free plate of BBQ.
White Fence - “Lillian (Won’t You Play Drums?)”
from the LP Is Growing Faith (Woodsist, 2011)
Bozza: This really is a perfect 60s garage track, and it couldn’t be better produced to achieve the desired effect. It’s a nice one-man band yin to the yang of Tim Presley’s work with Darker My Love. There is a lack of pretense here, combined with a very well crafted and conveyed idea that never strays into cover band territory. I can’t understand why this song isn’t on three movie soundtracks already.
Burke: The first time I heard this record all I could think was “lo-fi” Kinks. Like you say, this has potential to be a cover/tribute act without bringing anything new to the table but it avoids that through sheer talent and earnestness. The bonus track on the digital version is a straight cover of Johhny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” which is a pretty ballsy pick, but it slays. The lack of exposure this group has is a perfect indicator of how even accessible, extremely well-done traditional rock is barely a blip on the radar for all but the most devoted hipsterati.
Tyvek - “4312″
from the LP Nothing Fits (In The Red, 2010)
Bozza: Excuse the alliteration, but this is primo post-punk amphetamine garage rock. They remind me of a mid-Nineties Epitaph/Fat Possum band from Oxford, Mississippi called The Neckbones, but a tougher, more Stooges version, because they are from Detroit after all. The Neckbones came from a juke joint blues tradition, but the two bands share the same overly-wired out of control exhilaration. Did Tyvek name themselves after the polyethylene fabric used for Priority Mail envelopes and painters coveralls? I have a wallet made of that material which I’ve found to be strong, yet highly breathable, much like this band. Should Tyvek ever write a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” break out hit, I wonder whether Dupont will send them a cease and desist letter or just try to awkwardly levy the band’s cred in an effort to offset their ongoing crimes against the environment.
Burke: I think they have had to disguise their name on LP covers and their MySpace. Tyvek is a copyright of DuPont. Perhaps by refusing to change their name they have dodged the question of what happens when they sell out. I have been trying to see these guys live for a while and finally succeeded. They showed up late to their headlining set and the second guitarist got lost along the way so they played the first three songs without him. Why not? The kids were going crazy I tell you, a full-blown bouncy mosh pit of joy. I think these guys are the real deal simply by virtue of truly not caring.
Burke: I chose this live session because the recorded material is so beyond lo-fi it can take multiple listens to acclimate and really understand what he’s doing. The recorded stuff is also a one-man band show, not unlike White Fence, but live he adds a bassist and drummer that gives the songs some muscle. Most of the tunes, which are well-constructed, are just structures to add crazy guitar solos to, which is as legitimate an approach as any in my mind. This guy really gets my blood pumping, although it might not be the height of originality.
Bozza: I agree, but there’s no shame in his game. Stylistically, he’s a less glum version of J Mascis. Both of them are marvels. Allow yourself to be subsumed by the wailing wall of shredding.
Spotlight on Marnie Stern
“For Ash” from Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars, 2010)
I find it difficult to write about Marnie Stern. One reason is that her music is so exuberant, so immediately accessible and full of technical prowess and melodic invention that it seems rather crass to put it into writing. Not crass, maybe, but ultimately pointless. Of course I’m a writer and a critic and a fan and I love to talk about music but Stern elicits that all too rare reaction…speechlessness. Critics and pundits have been trying to pin the girl rock thing on Stern since her first LP and she won’t allow it because she preempts so many of these criticisms through her music, relying on a fierce tapping technique in her guitar and songs with titles like “Female Guitar Players Are The New Black,” at once sarcastic and knowing.
I think Stern has potential to transform into that rare female rock figure who does everything on her own terms and is never co-opted into a music industry that would like nothing better than to exert control over all its artists, male and female alike. She’s too smart and too talented to let that happen, and she’s also fortunate to live in a time when the influence of “the music industry,” as a monolith, is on the wane permanently.
I wish it were six months from now so that everyone reading this blog would believe me when I say this: Max, you and I never gush like this. Because we don’t. We both dig Marnie for the semi-reclusive, impossible to compartmentalize, stupidly talented, uncaring creative genius she is. She is the new (and improved) Kim Gordon for all girls (and boys) in rock and long may she wail. I’d love to see what happened if she found just the right band, if she found her male or female Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce or Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. Not sure I could handle that but I’m damn willing to try.
Our Response To The New Radiohead
Everyone just chill out, listen to Neil Young, and figure out how you feel about the new Radiohead album in six months. Or even one month. Seriously.
There will be a full discussion of King of Limbs next go-round, but for now, we’re going to showcase the best of the impossibly premature reactions we’ve found around the Internets.
Sean Fennessy goes for the literal approach.
Klosterman nails it.
Fox News’ surprisingly watchable Red Eye deadpans it for the win.