Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Clef Notes: The “I’m Officially Old” Edition

Every Friday, or at least until his spectacular rock star flameout, Giovanny will be dropping a week’s worth of music knowledge on you with Clef Notes, proof positive that he’s a one man music magazine.


Job well done.

Goodbye: On Wednesday, September 21st, one of the greatest bands America ever produced officially broke up after a career spanning three decades. When R.E.M. released their debut album in the early spring of 1983, new wave and hair metal were the two sounds that dominated the airwaves. While the release of their first single, Radio Free Europe, didn’t exactly set the charts on fire, it was added to the Library of Congress’s Musical Registry for creating "the pattern for later indie rock releases by breaking through on college radio in the face of mainstream radio's general indifference." That honor succinctly summarizes the influence and impact that R.E.M. had as a band. These were four men from Athens, Georgia who wanted to write sad songs, love songs, and obtuse songs in a fashion that was unique and wholly theirs, and that they did, with unquestionable success.

The R.E.M. sound is a perfect distillation of what each of its four members brought to the group. There was Bill Berry’s restrained drumming and multi-instrumental prowess, which made him a huge asset to the band during its songwriting and recording process. Also higlighted in the low-end was the tight round bass of Mike Mills, who was also a top-notch harmony singer, wrote the song (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville, and played piano on the perfect song that is Night Swimming. Peter Buck's contributions to R.E.M. are only eclipsed by those of the group's frontman, but can’t be minimized. Buck's right hand is possibly the best in all of rock n’ roll, he single-handedly brought the Rickenbacker back into vogue, and his mandolin playing is the most recognized in the history of modern music.

Then there is Michael Stipe.

I am often bothered when lyricists are mislabeld as poets, but in the case of Stipe I totally understand the use of the title. There have been few vocalists who were as pure of voice, as vulnerable of heart, or as eloquent of speech as Michael Stipe. He is a man who used his intelligence, sexuality, and gifts to write songs with messages that were artful, universal, and earnest, all without being, you know... Bono.

As a group, these four men recorded fifteen records, with six of them being absolute classics-but that is a conversation for another day. R.E.M. has been given just about every possible honor, and earned every accolade that can be awarded for making music. Theirs is a career that would be the envy of almost every human who wished to triumph over silence. They made money back in the day, when money making was a reality. They played every great space this world has to offer, and touched millions of people with their art. Who could ask for anything more? Not them.

In the end the breakup of R.E.M. makes me sad for various reasons. I never got to see them live which, as in most cases, is really my fault. Yet another massive band from the alternative era (though they were bigger than the alternative label) of my halcyon days is done and, let’s not forget, their last record was surprisingly good, so it's not like they were washed up. But the worst part about R.E.M. breaking up is the fact that music has lost a band that had the ability to express themselves in an articulate, passionate, and real way, basically the opposite of this.

It Was Inevitable: I know you don’t want to hear this, but Pearl Jam’s Ten turned twenty (20!) years old this year. It happened a couple of weeks back, and I spared you the realization then because I was trying to be kind. I am sure you have seen Pearl Jam out there making a ton of appearances as they try their darnedest to remind you of your mortality, and sell their various PJ20 products. Ah PJ20, the truncated slogan that is serving as branding for a book about the band, a weekend concert featuring the band (which was held in Wisconsin, the grungiest state?), and a Cameron Crowe helmed rockumentary which aims to tell the story of the band, the tours, the relevancy and, most of all, remind us how young we all were once, and aren’t now, especially in the case of Pearl Jam themselves. PJ20 (the rockumentary) also comes complete with a soundtrack which was released this week (see, now I made this story current!), and is 29 live tracks meant to make you never forget you once dressed like this. I am sorry for bringing all this up. Let’s move on, I am sure the next story won’t remind you that you're aging.

Just three dudes.

Psyche: I had planned for this Clef Notes to feature a massive Nirvana story, but I got carried away with it, and now it is somewhere else. The story was/is all about how Nevermind is twenty years old, like Ten, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (which was released on the same day as Nevermind), Gish, 2Pacalypse Now, The Black Album, and both Use Your Illusions. Obviously Nevermind is its own animal, which is why it got its own piece, and why I still had some stuff to write here. Much like Pearl Jam, Nirvana -and by that I mean Courtney Love, of course- is cashing in on the memories of the things you once loved. First, there is the deluxe edition of Nevermind that comes complete with all sorts of extra goodies like demos, alternate mixes, and previously unheard material. A rare 16mm shot 1991 Halloween concert at Seattle’s Paramount will also be available for purchase in the near future now on DVD, though it should be noted that some limited edition versions of the reissue ($$$) will also contain the DVD.

There will also be celebrations surrounding Nevermind’s twentieth birthday, which is officially tomorrow. Tonight, for instance, VH1 will air the aforementioned soon-to-be-released Paramount concert at 11 PM EST. That’s right, I said VH1, we’re totally that old now. Tomorrow will have its own celebration as Sirius satellite subscribers, all eight of you, will be able to tune into a town hall style meeting hosted by Jon Stewart and will include Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Butch “everyone hates my recording but the album is still a classic” Vig. You guys can tune into that at 8 PM tomorrow night

Twenty years is a long time. Think about what you were into twenty years ago (were you even alive?), one day, that stuff will come back to make you ponder all kinds of stuff you don’t want to ponder. Well, not you, I’m sure you’ll be the one who won’t be affected by it.


Father, Son, Holy Ghost - Girls

From the opening drum flourish and capoed C shape of Honey Bunny, Father, Son, Holy Ghost transports you to an era before cliches were cliche. The band, consisting of Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White, manages to create this nostalgic sound in a fashion that comes off as equal parts honest and reverential which, fortunately for Girls, keeps them from sounding trite. It would be easy to say that Girls wear their influences on their sleeves, but I suspect an even better metaphor is that the band uses its influences as a compass... [Full Review]

Era Extrana - Neon Indian

Era Extrana is the second LP to be released by Denton, Texas’ Neon Indian, and it had a lot to live up to, seeing as how their debut record, Psychic Chasms, was extremely well received. While Psychic Chasmswas a much more naively chaotic record, it possessed a modicum of freshness that was undeniable. Era Extrana is a more focused effort that tries its best to sound more palatable, but in doing so loses a little bit of its charm.. [Full Review].

16th Notes:

If I don't see these dudes next week, I will probably end up in jail.

Radiohead is appearing on The Colbert Report next week, and announced two last minute shows in New York City. If you bastards get between me and those tickets, I will murder each of you individually... Radiohead has also announced a world tour next year. The last joke/threat still applies. Lastly, Thom Yorke has announced that the Atoms For Peace record (Yorke, Flea, Godrich) is almost finished! HOORAY! Okay, we can talk about other bands now... Arcade Fire have won the 2011 Polaris Prize, Canada’s most prestigious music prize. Look, we all know these guys are great, let’s just move on please... There is some pretty humorous video out there of The Foo Fighters punking the Westboro Community Church. I only wish they had gone further, and duped the picketing morons into getting arrested somehow... Panda Bear has announced dates for a solo tour. I don’t think I need to see Noah Lennox three times in one year (no matter how good the record is), so the rest of you can knock yourselves out... One of my favorite artists of 2011, EMA, has released a video for the killer track, Marked. Watch it, and always remember, I knew about her first... Odd Future’s Domo Genesis dropped his own mixtape this week. There seems to be an overall theme to the record, and it rhymes with weed. Of course by "rhymes with" I mean "is"... The original Guided By Voices lineup has announced that they will be releasing a new album in the near future. I wonder how they had time to record an album, having played 8000 shows over the last two years...There is a full Wilco concert streaming over at CBS’ David Letterman site. You can check it out here, and be jealous of all the yuppies in the audience (do yuppies still exist?)...Trent Reznor has scored a trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and it's out there on the Internet. Watch it here while you wear your Nine Inch Nails t-shirt and sob... The Guardian is currently streaming the upcoming Zola Jesus record Conatus. As a matter of fact, I am listening to it as I write this. That is so meta I almost fainted... In other streaming news, the new Dum Dum Girls record is available over at the A.V. Club. You should go check it out, these girls carry the official Culture Blues seal of approval... Baltimore rockers Ponytail have broken up. If only REM hadn't broken up this week, I would have led Clef Notes with this news (I couldn’t even type that joke with a straight face)...

Top Twenty List

This Top Twenty List should come as no surprise to any of you. R.E.M. is not just the greatest band to come out of Athens, Georgia (I don’t care how much you love Neutral Milk Hotel, they aren’t even in the same school, let alone class), but the argument can be made that they are one of the greatest American bands of all time. Here is a list of the twenty best songs they wrote over the course of their remarkable career.

20) All The Best
19) Shiny Happy People
18) The Great Beyond
17) (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
16) Swan Swan H
15) Superman
14) What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
13) Driver 8
12) Finest Worksong
11) Orange Crush
10) The One I Love
9) Stand
8) Drive
7) Radio Free Europe
6) Man On The Moon
5) Fall On Me
4) Losing My Religion
3) It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
2) Night Swimming
1) Everybody Hurts

Track Of The Week:

Huzzah! (Remix) - Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire ft. Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown, and El-P: Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire is a New York based emcee who has been in the news a lot over the last couple of weeks, but some of those stories involve Das Racist (who unfortunately appear on this track) so I don’t want to write about them. Instead I bring you the latest remix for Huzzah!, which appears on eXquire’s recently released mixtape Lost In Translation (which has one of the best covers of 2011). This track is an ode to getting abducted (which has replaced "'faced" in the current generation’s patois), and oddly does not suffer from the “too many rappers” issue that I tend to lament when I see a featuring roster this long.

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2 Responses »

  1. as a reader and resident of athens, if you think r.e.m. is the greatest musical act to come out to the city, you obviously have not heard this yet:


  2. I stand corrected.