If you live life according to Gregory’s calendar, as we do in our little corner of the world, then you’ve likely noticed by now that we’ve reached December, the final (and, at this moment, coldest) month of the year.
As such, December ushers in a season of conclusions, a time for tallying, wrapping-up, and tying-off. Most of us spend these last few weeks tidying for tax filing (and feeling taxed), for instance, compiling lists of accomplishments and comparing them to (the much longer) to-do lists, cleaning out cluttered closets and organizing kitchen drawers, and so on. It’s also a time for reflection and introspection, for looking back on all that’s come before you in the 330-odd days already passed, remembering the good times (while revising your memories of the bad), and wondering if you’re ready for what’s coming next. And, for those of us who are filed under the world’s major religious categories, December has become an excuse for wrapping-up and giving gifts.
So, for the next 2-3 weeks, we at Scribbleskiff will be trying to accomplish all of the above tasks, taking stock of and drawing conclusions about our favorite attainments from this past year — the books read, beers tasted, bands discovered — posting brief reviews and/or some rumination, in the attempt to distract you with useless information (as you’ve come to expect) and to offer some ideas for items to give your loved ones and friends (I know it sounds better to write that phrase the other way round, but it’s never made sense to me to do so). Let’s call it our year-end wrap-up rapping for holiday wrapping series.
Some of this you may have encountered before, whether here or elsewhere, but we suspect most of it you may not have heard about at all. In either case, we’ll be posting as often as we can, so keep checking back. Enjoy!
First up is a little dose of nouveau-nostalgia, because nowadays, it seems, if you want to find out what’s happening around you, just look to yesterday. It’s the new today.
In fact, so much of what’s making headlines right now is, for all intents and purposes, old news. Everything, from bank failures (remember the S&L crisis?) and rising unemployment (get in line again, brother), to natural disasters (like good ol’ what’s-her-name), global conflicts (same desert, different decade), and public celebrity meltdowns (this is one of our faves), everything has been — yawn! — done before.
Even among the ephemera of pop culture, what’s new and hip right now often turns out to be old-fashioned. Take the resurgence in cocktails, for instance. Some of the hottest drinks for fall, according to an article in Esquire, involve some of the oldest and simplest of ingredients: rye, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Of course, no one makes Old Fashioneds the way “dear old Dad used to.”
Not there’s anything wrong with it, as they said on Seinfeld. Quite the contrary, actually. I often like it when we repeat the past, on purpose. A lot of what went on before was good and bears repeating. And, yes, things were simpler back then. I suppose that’s true because we were younger (and, in some cases, youngsters), and people were doing things for us, taking care of us and the stuff that needed taking care of. I miss that. I’m not always fond of being responsible and having to be in charge. Sometimes, I don’t want to be a pirate.
Two new records by relatively young bands have recently caught my attention and wound up on continuous repeat, simply because they sound like — and, let’s be honest, make me wish for — the way things were.
(If you are reading this via email or Facebook and do not see the flash music players below each song, click here to listen in full on the blog site.)
The Drums, The Drums. Island Records. I’m a sucker for the incongruity of a debut that sounds dated, that evokes an “I’ve-heard-it-all-before-but-never-like-this” feeling. But I wonder if it was ever quite like this. Imagine if Brian Wilson and New Order had a baby. That spawn would be called The Drums, a band from Brooklyn whose sound is both sunny and goofy, hip and nerdy, techno and swinging. An undeniable ’80s odor permeates the disc — from the opening cut, “Best Friend,” with its danceable, collar-turned-up INXS swagger that would be at home on any John Hughes soundtrack, to the last track — and it smells like an old-time beach party. The Furs are here, along with The Cars, Yazoo, and A Flock of Seagulls (and their cresting hairdos). And so are Dick Dale, the Surfaris, The Ventures, and other beachcombers. The first single, “Let’s Go Surfing,” with its Devo-meets-Jan-and-Dean quality, is the strongest cut and it nearly overshadows the others. But, like the bravest big-wave rider, it’s so outstanding that the others follow along, holding their own in its wake.
Listen to “Let’s Go Surfing” (mp3)
Phosphene Dream, The Black Angels, Blue Horizon. If The Drums is a throwback, then this record is a catapult. A one-way trip in Doc Brown’s heavy-metal time machine. In other words, the future is all in the past for The Black Angels, who have been digging their 1960s psych-pop roots for a few LPs and now have finally hit peyote dirt. From the song titles (like “Yellow Elevator #2” and “Bad Vibrations”) to the spacey album art, everything on Phosphene Dream says, “we’re not in the 21st century anymore.” But this is not mood music for a wax museum. No, these folks have done their homework (and their share of psychotropic drugs, too) to create a set of original, lively songs that feels both “of an era” and of any era. They take handfuls of The Zombies, early Pink Floyd, Iron Butterfly, and The Doors, down them with some bluesy vibes from The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, and create dark, moody, lyrical, raucous rock music that’s as full of drama as it is fun to dance to. Amid the halting, reverb-swallowing vocals, haunting Hammond runs, crashing cymbals, and droning guitars beats the heart of a straight-ahead garage band. Watch this clip and tell me if you think I’m dreaming.
Listen to “Bad Vibrations” (mp3)
So there you have it, two new CDs from this past year to box up and bestow upon a rocking loved one. As always, tell us what you think. Have you heard the new LPs by The Drums or The Black Angels? Are there any other new seasonal offerings that you think everyone should try? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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