Monthly Archives: June 2015

Words From The Midwest XXXIII

Good evening, all drunken mishaps; all talkin’ trash; all divine intervention; all maybe I’ve said that before. Welcome to another edition of Words From The Midwest.

This will be a two part post because my mind is scattered and I want this to be two very different things.

Firstly, on the topic of my over-productivity so far this year:

It’s very nearly a problem and I have saturated my internets with, like, six releases and three books, so I’m gonna take a little break to work on my second novel, which will be a labour of love, I’m sure, and is going to be entitled, “Oh, Yes! or The Intrepid Dreamer.”

There. End of self-serving bullshit.

What I really want to write about – what I’ve been threatening to really delve into for a while now – is the best band in the world today; one of the best bands of our generation; an artist and group so completely raw and perfect that I get angry when other people don’t like them as much as I do. I understand, I suppose. The vocals are Morisseyesque, in a way, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, you’re just not gonna give the band a chance. But if you do, man, you will find songs that are wonderfully unique, positively exquisite, and drop dead perfect Rock and Roll. I mean, the lyrics in and of themselves are so good that they stand on their own – more often than not – as beautiful poetry. But with wordplay alone, Okkervil River wouldn’t be Okkervil River. They’d just be Will Sheff. And, honestly, with such a literate mind (he often writes essays, film reviews, and such, which you can find on his website) and a goddamn brilliant nack for intricate melodies built around classic chord progressions, if he was a solo act, I think he’d probably still be my favorite songwriter. But what makes Okkervil River truly special is the raw power and skill with which they arrange each song Sheff brings forth. Their drummer is like the Animal, their lead guitar player is a woman and she crafts lovely and shredable guitar parts…but maybe the thing about them as a band I love so much is that they utilize not one, but two, acoustic guitars. Yes, it is acoustic guitar driven, Indie-Whatever with a Punk hew. It doesn’t hurt – if you really give them a chance, you’ll realize – that Will Sheff’s vocals outshine most of his contemporaries, and the way he flat out screams at the right time will give you chills.

I first heard Okkervil River when I was 19 years old, living in Asheville, North Carolina, and dying for new inspiration, wanting and hoping to become a halfway decent songwriter in a time in my life when I flat out needed to write music. As time has gone by, and I have gobbled up everything the band has offered the world, I maintain that they are the best band in the world and they are, with Will Sheff in particular, the reason I became the songwriter I am. The first good song I wrote, I wrote to the tune of Plus Ones. My song is called Visions So Sweet and it’s damn near the tune and tone of Plus Ones, and I don’t even care. As I have developed as a songwriter, it’s hopefully true that I have gotten away from straight-up ripping them off. But as a songwriter – hell, as a music lover – I still look to Okkervil River for inspiration. They are something special. But now I’m getting redundant.

So I’ll finish this post the way I’ve finished a few of these…go listen to them. Listen to Okkervil River. It won’t be the last time I say that. And this probablly won’t even be the last time I write about them. I mean, they play a part in two of the books I’ve written. They’re spinning right now (Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See). And I’m itching for a new release. Because I’ve played out the grooves of what they’ve done so far.

They’ve released some masterpieces, man. Seriously. And they’re not – I hope – even close to being done.

Until next time.



Words From The Midwest XXXII

Good morning, all hellos and goodbyes; all possibilities, endless; all perfectly frank. Welcome to another edition of Words From The Midwest.

Well, so far in the reinventing of the purpose and theme of this series, I have written about Ezra Furman and then The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Today, I’m going to bring it back to the present and write of a brand new artist: one whose first full length isn’t even in my collection yet, because I’m behind a number of people in line at the library, and I have no money to go out and buy it, although – in addition to Ezra Furman and Okkervil River, the latter of which I’m sure I’ll write about here sooner or later – it will be one of my first purchases as I start my record collection over. And though I don’t have Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I just Sit, I do have The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas spinning as I write this.

And if you haven’t heard of either of these albums, I’m here to fill you in. They are by the newest sensation in Rock and Roll, Courtney Barnett.

Now, let me say straight up that Courtney Barnett’s songs are deceptively simple. She follows classic chord progressions almost to a fault at times, and yet the way she crafts her melodies around these seemingly trite – or at least, seemingly worn – structures are precisely why she’s so damn good. Her lyrics are strange, off the cuff, slacker poetry, and she writes about things which are so mundane and everyday, you’d think they would be almost boring. And that’s kind of why her music is so charming. It’s just so goddamn clever, the way she comes up with a song title as wonderful as Avant Gardener, while simultaneously writing about planting a garden and having trouble breathing, declaring herself as “super-hypochondriactic,” taking a hit from an inhaler, and doing it wrong: “never good at smoking bongs.” Her rhyme schemes make no sense a lot of the time, with lines flowing into and away from each other almost at random. But aside from the way she writes songs, is the very real and visceral way she performs them. There is no gimmick about her. She is real. She is raw. She is exactly what popular music has been waiting for.

And that’s really why I’m writing about her anyway.

I recently read an article about how crossover country (with a lowercase c) is basically the 80s hair metal of today, clogging up the airwaves with an asinine sound and style, with lyrics proclaiming gross, stupid, and banal lifestyles, with vocals which, from song to song and artist to artist, sound identical both in tone and in timbre. Hell, you could pretty much attach the same description to most radio hip hop (which, almost criminally, seems to retread the same beat over and over), and, christ, even the alternative rock, post-grunge, shitty shit of bands like Nickleback and Foo Fighters (yes…the Foo Fighters suck. Period) who try to recapture the worst of the 90s over and over and over…I digress. The article in question basically declares a need for a “Nirvana Moment” or, to put it literally, for an artist to strip away the bullshit pulsating through popular music, offering a unique voice to the masses. And although one could make the case that this moment has probably happened countless times in recent memory, what with the garage rock explosion of the early 21st Century, the rise of Indie Rock (and music put out by indie labels at large, although most of that music has been just as trite and passionless as that which finds its way to the radio waves), it is my belief that Courtney Barnett is that moment. She is the artist we – or at least I – have been waiting for for years. And though the very fact that I first heard about her in Rolling Stone fucking Magazine – the publication most willing to inexplicably give U2’s newest album four stars – is somewhat ironic, the very fact that it would set aside print for a relatively unknown Australian singer-songwriter, is proof enough for me that the music community at large is paying attention. And thank god, really. Because in a world of Justin Beiber, One Direction, and Miley Cyrus (who, on a slightly stranger note, is, somehow, gainging respect in the music community) we have a left-handed, electric guitar playing, Rock and Roll goddess who seems to care way more about making Good Music with, basically, just a guitar-bass-drums setup, than gaining any amount of Pop Fame, and wearing her out-of-left-field status as a badge of honor, culling the space between the notes as as important as the notes themselves…We have ourselves an Artist who is ready to change the world.

And for that, Miss Barnett, I thank you. And I can’t wait to hear your first full length. Because I’ve been playing The Double EP every day for weeks.

And it’s fantastic.

In other, more personal news, I’m beginning work on the Dad’s Typewriter LP today. A year in the making – with me setting it aside to work on more pressing endeavours – it will be a hell of draining experience. But if I can channel even a bit of Barnett’s musicality – while making music that will definitely sound nothing like her’s – I will have made the record I want to make.

We’ll see.

Until next time,