Dog Days Classics: Rethinking Wowee Zowee

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Back in 1997, Stephen Malkmus was asked in an interview when it was that Pavement sold out or tried to make their sound more accessible. To the interviewer's surprise, the indie hero said Slanted and Enchanted, the band's celebrated 1992 debut. “We made a bunch of singles before that,” Malkmus recalled. Slanted might seem dissonant and avant-garde in retrospect, he said, “but then I felt it was such a pop album.” Indeed, songs like "Summer Babe" and "Zurich Is Stained" were actually lovely pop nuggets in comparison to the crazy, caustic noise rock that Pavement offered in the very earliest years of their career. To Malkmus, if not to many critics and fans, Slanted was just the first step … [Read more...]

Star Wars: The Han Solo of Wilco Albums?

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The advantage of surprise can overcome a multitude of sins; poor planning, mediocre workmanship, sloppy execution, they can all be forgiven when one is presented with a gift of unexpectedness. Other times a pleasant surprise can be just that: pleasant, enjoyable, and well crafted. Though obviously not the world-altering shot in the dark that was Beyonce’s self-titled 2013 release, Wilco delivered an album that feels as natural as the hot summer breeze it floated in on but remains as memorable as that first music festival you attended in high school. For sure, some observers will scoff. Star Wars is the musical manna of a band in its twilight, they will suggest; the Grateful Dead for aging … [Read more...]

1996: The Year R.E.M. and Pearl Jam Committed Suicide

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The year was 1996—almost 20 years ago, kids—and the alternative revolution was in its dead-ender stage. Kurt Cobain was gone, the Smashing Pumpkins ruled with a cross-breed of Rush and Journey (before it was cool), and the ska and swing revivals were just around the corner. That year, two of the biggest bands of the early 1990s came out with albums that basically killed their careers: R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Pearl Jam’s No Code. Both albums met with mixed reviews from critics. Each earned an unenthusiastic 6 out of 10 rating from SPIN magazine, and New Adventures in Hi-Fi topped both best-of and worst-of lists for the year. Two bands who were at the height of fame—both of … [Read more...]

“Let It Be”: The Replacements, Generation X, and Sexuality 30 Years Later

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"If they hadn't come along I think we would have to invent them somehow," impressively bearded writer Robert Voedisch told filmmakers in 2011’s Color Me Obsessed. Sprawling over two hours, the documentary captures the feelings of affection, disbelief, and for many fans in regard to the last few albums, despair, that the infamous Minneapolis postpunk band the Replacements inspired. Indeed, the level of reverence that fans hold for a band clearly defined by irreverence remains palpable. They were a 1980s Velvet Underground, notes one; they may have sold few records, but everyone who picked one up joined a band. “The great existential heroes of American Indie rock,” Titus Andronicus lead singer … [Read more...]

Album 88: Historically Right on the Music, Presently Leaving the Dial

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Since 1971, Georgia State University has hosted an important Atlanta cultural institution—one that has created a positive relationship between the University and the city (and the general metro area). WRAS, known as Album 88, has allowed GSU students to bring their musical discoveries to Atlanta listeners. In doing so, this student-run radio station has been a touchstone for the local community for over four decades. What began as a 20,000 watt local college station has become a 100,000 watt megaphone for independent music in Atlanta and beyond. In the past 43 years, student volunteers at Georgia State University have had a voice in shaping the local and national music scene. During this … [Read more...]

Notably Decent Indie Rock: Meet the Counterfactuals

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ToM Best of 2013 There’s something very charming about the thought of a band of philosopher-musicians. Enter the Counterfactuals, a band whose members hail from Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota. Songwriter, vocalist, and rhythm guitarist Daniel Groll specializes in normative and biomedical ethics at Carleton. Lead guitarist and Carleton philosopher Jason Decker may be most entertainingly described in his own words: “After refusing to vacate his office, he was hired as a tenure track professor, starting in the fall of 2008.” Drummer Mike Fuerstein teaches at St. Olaf, where he tackles epistemological issues in politics and the sciences and makes time to take American … [Read more...]

Filtering Music through a ToM Lens

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"Starting with the affirmation of man/ I work myself backwards using cynicism," Mike Watt sings on the Minutemen's classic track "The Glory of Man." "I live sweat, I dream light years/ I am the tide - the rise and fall." For many of our writers individuals like Mike Watt and bands like the Shins or rap groups like Das Racist have served as a means to connect and filter our understanding of late 20th  and early 21st century culture and history. Needless to say it was a veritable red letter day when Watt tweeted at ToM regarding an article we had written about the band.  Undoubtedly, Watt remains a testament to the ethos of the hardcore punk movement—"Punk rock is an idea, not a musical … [Read more...]

Inauthentic Authenticity: Ian Svenonius and the Challenge of Indie Rock Satire in an MP3 World

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Saturday night, Washington D.C., a stone’s throw from one of D.C. hardcore’s central nodes and the playground of Nation of Ulysses (NOU) front man Ian Svenonius: the Embassy in Mt. Pleasant.  In the late 1980s and 1990s, Svenonius, NOU, and other D.C. punks used to gather at the Embassy to discuss music, politics, and agit prop, even serving as an ally to the Riot Grrrl movement when Kathleen Hanna and others left Washington for a sojourn to the capital in what for many, became a transformative experience.   Tonight, though, sitting in independent book store Politics and Prose and waiting for Svenonius to appear from on high to assault us with his latest philosophical tract, the shop hums … [Read more...]

Economic Hardcore: Remembering the Minutemen Nearly 30 Years Later

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[Editor's Note: For more on punk, hardcore, rap, hip hop, and other ToM music commentary see here] In 1984, British-born director Alex Cox released the now cult classic Repo Man.  The movie, influenced by punk rock and hardcore, filtered the sensibilities of those musical forms through film, illustrating a stark contrast with the commercialism of early 1980s Reaganite America.  White suburban punk Otto (Emilio Estevez) moves through the city as a newly minted repo man, repossessing vehicles his fellow Angelenos have failed to pay for.  While the movie takes aim at rampant consumerism and pokes fun at the aesthetics and tenets of punk and hardcore, it also left many critics impressed with … [Read more...]

Tropics of Meta’s Best of 2012

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It has been a big year for us at ToM, as we rebooted and redesigned the site back in March and welcomed many new contributors.  (Hi, Jude, Lauren, Maryann, Nick, Adam, John, Jonathyne, & co.)  We were also lucky to see several of our pieces circulated more broadly in the online world, such as Alex’s look at the politics of Atlanta’s Beltline, Ryan’s analysis of sexuality in the films of Wes Anderson, and our roundtable discussion of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  Meanwhile, the manic, occasionally psychotic antics of the US election cycle prompted both mild laceration from our friend Clement, who covered the presidential conventions and debates, as well as the periodic spike in interest in … [Read more...]

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