Archive for January, 2010

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the rock i dig the most ’09: Mariachi El Bronx

January 29, 2010

The Bronx have proven to me, both on record and in a live setting, over the last few years that they are without a doubt a world class rock ‘n’ roll band. Like Rocket From The Crypt before them, The Bronx seem to carry an extra gene for being cool. You know, the one that makes everything they do 100x cooler than everyone else’s attempt at cool. Some bands/people are just a cut above their peers. The Bronx are that. So when the band announced that they were planning on making a mariachi record, I was interested. Though I didn’t know if they were joking or not. Then, on last year’s Warped Tour they started playing sets as Mariachi El Bronx. This was no joke.

I’m not going to pretend I have a bunch of mariachi cred. I don’t know the first thing beyond identifying its general sound. The records I own by Alejandro Escovedo and Calexico are about as close as my record collection gets to having anything even remotely close to mariachi music in it. What I do know are songs. This record has ’em. Strong ones. With melodies and hooks. This record is a man sitting alone at a bar, drowning his sorrows. Longing and loss.  Regret and redemption. This record displays a high level of musicianship. This record creates an overall vibe that my ears don’t often experience. It’s a pop record I can dance to, a soul record I can feel, a rock ‘n’ roll record I can relax with, and yet, it’s a bona fide mariachi record.

This record could have been a rock band making a mariachi record for shits ‘n’ giggles. It could have been an album full of take-offs on Ween’s
Buenos Tardes Amigos.” And while I like that song a lot and it’s a fun listen every time I hear it, I didn’t need an entire record of it. Instead, what the Bronx delivered with Mariachi El Bronx is, in my opinion, the most beautiful record of the year.

Mariachi El Bronx sounds lovely like this:

The same band in their other incarnation, The Bronx, sounds lovely like this:

I love it all.

The Bronx also represents something sentimental for me. My brother is just about nine and half years younger than me. We have a lot in common when it comes to music. Without giving our entire musical history, basically, we both Rock in the truest sense of the word. I don’t mind taking a lot of credit for that. Once my baby brother graduated from the crib, he moved into my bedroom, which made it our shared bedroom. Bunk bed and all. Most three or four year old boy’s bedrooms are decorated with some bad baseball and football kidproof easy-to-clean wallpaper, maybe a toy box in the corner. My brother got wood panelling covered up with Motley Crue, Ozzy and Iron Maiden Eddie posters straight out of the poster rack at the local mall’s Spencer’s Gifts store.

Those posters would soon be replaced with Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer by the time he was five or six.   As I experienced my teen years and went through every stage of aggressive music that a midwestern teenaged boy is want to go through, my brother was right there taking it all in about a decade too soon. While most kids were making box car racers in cub scouts, my brother was making his own 90-minute Heavy Metal and Punk Rock mix tapes on my dual cassette tape deck.

As I got into more punk rock, thrash and speed metal , alternative rock , live bootlegs and even underground tape trading stuff like The Frogs and Daniel Johnston, he was right there making his own copies on the seemingly endless supply of Maxells that existed in our bedroom. Where my brother and I differed though (besides his major exploration into the music of Rush) was at some point during these years, my brother picked up a guitar and could actually play it.  To this day, I still struggle with the few chords I actually learned from reading tab. My brother is one of those people who just knows how to play inherently. I honestly can not remember a time when he didn’t know how to play guitar. It’s as if he picked it up and out came Metallica’s “Blackened.” When he became interested in drums, my dad and I took him to buy his first set. Again, he just sort of instantly knew how to play. I think he took some lessons for a short time, but he quickly seemed to be better off on his own. I was amazed at how fast he picked things up. I can barely keep a single beat on a kit. I’ve even heard my brother sing well, hitting all the high notes on a drunken karaoke run through of A-ha’s “Take On Me.”

Later, he got serious about his playing and explored Jazz a bit, even getting a paying job as a teenager playing drums in a jazz combo with musicians much older than he that did gigs at a fancy supper club joint on the weekends. He had his pop-punk high school bands and floated in and out of a few bands with friends before eventually ending up playing drums in a band with an established indie label record deal, put out a record and hit the road off and on for a few years.  He’s currently slugging it out at the DIY level in two bands, recording, hitting the road and playing shows whenever he can. I’m extremely proud of him and totally envious of his talent.

So back to The Bronx and the reason I hold a bit of a sentimental love for that band. The Bronx are without a doubt one of my favorite bands. The recklessness of hardcore punk and the power of riff rock fight over the melodic aspects of pop in their music. They pull it off beautifully and in spades, minus any grace whatsoever. The Bronx hit you in the face and then in the heart and you have fun taking the punch. They embody so many of the basic things I love about Rock ‘N’ Roll.

While my brother heard his first notes of Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, The Frogs, Guided By Voices, The Clash, The Ramones, Triple Fast Action, Ween and countless other bands that we share a love for from me…I heard my first notes of the Bronx from my brother when he nonchalantly loaned  me their first record and said, “Check these guys out, I think you’ll like them.”

Payback is an amazing thing.

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the rock i dig the most ’09: Dinosaur Jr.

January 25, 2010

It occurred to me while listening to Farm for seemingly the 183rd time since it was released that Dinosaur Jr. are the George Foreman of Rock. George Foreman really had no business coming back to boxing at nearly 40 years old, well past his prime and apparently just looking for a big payday. Many bands have reformed under these circumstances, and while it’s fun to go see them, it’s never really as good as you remember it. Foreman, though, to everyone’s surprise, went ahead and won the heavyweight title in 1994 at the age of 45. Not only did he become heavyweight champion of the world (regaining the title he lost to Muhammad Ali twenty years earlier), but in the same year, he launched the George Foreman grill. This might be the greatest single year that any human being in the history of earth has ever experienced…but that may or may not be another post. For now, I’ll stay focused on Dinosaur Jr.  2009’s Farm and 2007’s Beyond are Dinosaur Jr.’s 1994 (even though they’re both far better than the record J Mascis actually did release as Dinosaur Jr. in ’94).

A few years ago when J Mascis reformed Dinosaur Jr. with original members Lou Barlow and Murph, I thought, “That’s cool. I’ll definitely check that out.” I certainly wasn’t expecting Dinosaur Jr. to be an even better band now than they were the first time around. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, that is exactly what has happened. Beyond was among the best records of ’07 and Farm is even better than Beyond. J Mascis’ guitar again remains front and center, just as it should be, overdriven, buzzing, crunching and churning some of the poppiest melodies I heard all year. Juxtaposing the sheer rock ‘n’ roll is J’s voice. Sounding like a depression-ridden, broken, beaten man cutting his vocals after being awoken in the middle of the night, his damaged drawl lays a wash of sadness on these lyrically remorseful, but for the most part musically upbeat, songs. It’s a dynamic that really shouldn’t work at all. Sort of like a washed up boxer winning the title while simultaneously endorsing an electric grill that drains fat from your burgers shouldn’t have worked. Yet not only does it work, it’s fucking awesome.

I came of age in the ‘90s. I know I’m supposed to recognize Lou Barlow as an underrated genius and sing the praises of Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, and granted some of that stuff is decent, but Lou Barlow isn’t the reason I listen to Dinosaur Jr.  When he got booted from the band, I still bought the records he didn’t play on and liked most all of them. But there is no argument that the band’s best records are the one’s he and Murph play on. In fact, Farm is probably the best thing the band has ever done, including their late-‘80s/early ‘90s output. No other record has ever made me feel introspective, reflective and somewhat somber when listening to it while simultaneously leaving me overjoyed and completely rocked the fuck out.

More reasons I dig Dinosaur Jr.’s Farm:

  • J. Mascis is a living, breathing guitar god that looks like a cross between a creepy science teacher and Gandalf the Grey.
  • They made this video for possibly the catchiest track on the record:
  • The track “I Don’t Wanna Go There” and the fact that it’s nearly nine minutes in length on the record and just about half of it is guitar shredding. Dinosaur Jr. is leading the charge to assure that the indie kids come to respect the guitar solo. J owns you at the 3:27 mark:
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the rock i dig the most ’09: intro

January 25, 2010

Every rock geek worth his or her salt compiles some sort of year-end best-of list. I’m no different (with the possible exception of getting around to posting it a month or so into the new year). Though, in recent years, I’ve given up on the whole Top 10/Top 20 type list.  I like different records for different reasons at different times and I’m not about to cut a good record out of my list because I came up with some reason one record is #20 and another is #21. That’s as dumb as rating a record with a fractional numeric score (Pitchfork).

These are simply the records that were released in 2009 that I enjoyed the most.  Hopefully over the next few weeks I’ll find the time to ramble on about them a little bit. These won’t necessarily be full-on reviews in as much as they’ll mostly just be a few bits about why I dig the Rock and maybe I’ll end up going off on some interesting tangents.

So, in no particular order, I present the 2009 edition of the Rock I dig the most…