One of the student interns recommended this band to me, so I listened. The kid was pretty fervent in his recommendation of Young the Giant. He said, "Dude, this band...." (the pause lasted for forty seconds, a masterful aporia on his part) "...they're good."
It's pleasant enough, but probably not something I could listen to over and over again (something that would've surely happened if this band had existed when I was, say, 17), which is disappointing in its own way. Someone else was talking the other night about when they first loved Radiohead, and I remembered how I listened to OK Computer very much if not exactly like the apes observing the monolith for the first time in "2001," right down to the fact that I started hurling dirt in the air and yelling when I heard the beginning notes of "Airbag." I'm guessing Young the Giant had a similar effect on this kid (though, truthfully, it's tough to see how you could live so sheltered a life that YtG would effectively blow your mind, but whatever, I don't know this kid's backstory, maybe in his toddler years he was like the Wild Child of Aveyron).
Manifold are the pleasures of Art Brut. "Unprofessional Wrestling" is along the lines of some of the band's other hook-up songs (Good Weekend, Pump Up the Volume, etc.), though this one is special for its use of wrestling moves in the lyrics (hilarious and creepy), and the guitars--that interval from :43 to :48 in the song is gold, the way Argos' lyrics are ornamented and underlined with those pick scrapes behind the nut (this is a real thing, I swear). That touch is what I love about Art Brut. There aren't many (or any) other bands making goofy-as-fuck but perfectly executed and artfully constructed rock songs.
The Beginning of a Short Biography of Josephet Zellner
Zellner did not hear a spoken word until the age of five. His parents were both mute, having been injured during a shoo-fly pie cook-off that occurred a few months after their arrival in America. They communicated with him by hand signals, drawings, ostensive language (pointing with fingers, toes, and nose gestures), and facework. The day his parents bundled him off to the old schoolhouse was, Zellner later said, one of the saddest days in his life. Obviously, the boy's early student years were difficult, and he was treated as something of a novelty by both his fellow students and teachers, who tended to him as if he were a class project--a sprouting bean, or a dull piece of agate. After five years of communicating with slate and chalk (always tied around his neck--and in fact he wore it until he married), he spoke his first words. "I am without equal," he said, in a voice of hard, keen authority. He spoke perfect Pennsylvania German--though in a dialect of his own making. It was as though, in those five years, he had been fashioning internally a syntax, delicate and luminous, that would be equal to the silent and expressive language of his parents. His poems, aphorisms, and Bauraspruche are often constructed around a single image, rendered in language that circumscribes a particular qualitative experience of that image.
The first time I listened to "Train," I had an intense physical reaction to it. The song starts with a bright metallic burst, a little musical 'hark!', then shifts into the pulses that form the fundament of the track. When I heard this for the first time (through headphones), it felt like my face was trying to jump off my skull--and though that sounds like it would be excruciatingly painful, the sensation was actually very pleasant, close to the disconnected amusement you feel when your leg jumps at the stroke of the reflex hammer (there's nothing wrong with taking pride in your autonomic system). I think it has to do with the panning of noises in the song--my ears were trying to track the movements of things that weren't really there, or weren't truly moving. "Train" is amazing both because of and apart from this phenomenon; it's probably one of the best musical impressions of 'riding a train' that I've ever heard, and it captures the sinister character of rail travel so prominently featured in books like Murder on the Orient Express (Christie) and Orient Express (Greene) (also The Hothouse, by Wolfgang Koeppen).
In early 2001, I heard this song for the first time and tried to use it as a weapon. I knew a girl, like we all do, who was getting married soon--that spring I think. She was affianced to a man who was majestically wrong for her. He was silent, brooding, serious, unmusical. She was funny, voluble, intense, and songworthy. I heard this song by chance over the speakers at a student-run coffeeshop, which usually only played a mix of Love and Amon Duul albums. I tracked down the band, Sodastream. I began a friendly email correspondence with the group, and invited them to America, to come play at the small auditorium nearby. Incredibly, they agreed. Two months later, I picked up the band and their equipment at the local airport and escorted them around town. Soundcheck went perfectly. I told the band that my PR firm had taken care of everything, advertising the show online, over the radio, and in the newspapers. Street teams were everywhere, I said, wearing their arms out with poster-pasting. In actuality, no such PR firm existed. I had invited only the girl to the concert, and I was going to propose to her there, in the auditorium, while the band played, in order to steal her away from the quiet robot she was about to marry. She never showed. The band sued me, right then and there (the drummer is a lawyer). I blacked out and woke up in jail seven months later. It's still a good song.
Roj is here to calm you down. Remember that strategy meeting this morning? It's in the past. Roj is here, and you are here. Remember when you thought your dress made you look like a very tall argyle sock? Forget that shit. Roj is here. Remember when you heard, in the grocery store, that Jane's Addiction song that's so despicable it makes you hate dogs, voices, and anything that occurs in the bass register? Don't worry, darling. Roj is here. Learn how to let go, or at least forget how to hold on. You're in the hands of Roj now.
I always imagined the French Kicks as a group of dudes who really love J. Crew but who also do not mind getting some dirt on their khakis, literally and metaphorically (in the metaphorical sense, khakis represent the soul). This song is great but also very goofy in some ways. It's hard not to think of the singer of this song as someone who's wearing sockless loafers (and Oakley sunglasses) at a backyard cook-out and who, after about 12 beers, picks up the keg nozzle and pretends it's a microphone. This person is not singing to you or me. Not at all. He's probably singing to the stony memories of old girlfriends which, like caryatids, bear the weight of--etc.
Everywhere on the air of the city were carried myriad sounds, alarming or frightful, sweet sometimes and soothing, or both, blended together into a noise that Anthony strained to hear in whole, but could not, for each component note or voice rose above or fell below the dithering rest before he could fully grasp it within his ears, though he listened with all attention put to the city sounds while his father spoke with the trader, it was as if the effort to hear the sound blocked his perception of it, and what he retained of the sound itself was neither true form nor full falsification, he thought, but something in between, a mixed rendering like the far-off projections of lakes and oases in the desert, where water appeared set among the dunes, and as the day's travel drew the vision closer, the lakes dried up and vanished and only the truth of the dunes remained; so with the sounds, which fled from his knowing just as he felt on the verge of comprehending their essential qualities and meaning.
At some point in the not so distant past, spring was a cause for celebration, a time to set to work, and a transition with obvious, tangible meaning. For us moderns, it can seem less welcoming and joyful. Doubtless, spring ushers indisputable changes of season. Warmth and rain, blossoms and critters. But it can all seem to make our own stasis more obvious, more dispiriting. Spring can engender a sense that we're standing in place as the stage hands change the background. It's easy to lose your sense of progress in spring, when the passage of time is so powerfully abroad in the world. With concision, wit, and brilliance, Tom Waits's "You Can Never Hold Back Spring" evokes the tragedy of spring, and repays the losses of time with the consolation of love.
This was written by my friend Sean Barry. Sean lives in New Jersey, where he teaches and writes about literature and culture.
Deliberative Speech Presented Outside a Bar on St. Patrick's Day (just after twilight)
I understand your reservations. Physical and emotional. I get it. We’ve only known each other for six hours. One quarter of a day. But you know science says that what we perceive as the passage of time is merely a byproduct of our brains’ inability to fully understand motion and change. The present is all there is. Sex is only the conjunction of two sets of cells. I’m a set of cells. You’re a set of cells. It's just set theory.